It has been a challenging couple of weeks as the Saint Louis Women’s Basketball Team is in a similar situation, as its male counterparts having lost a player to injury for the season.
Admittedly, Saint Louis had a roster that was lower in numbers than desired with 11, and that number took a further hit when heart-and-soul post player Myriama Smith Traore (9.1 ppg/9.1 rebs/51.9% FG) tore her ACL in her left knee.
Saint Louis has its toughest ever non-conference schedule, which begins with three home games against Northern Iowa, the team that ended its season last year, Indiana State and rival Missouri.
That slate is now tougher without Smith Traore on the court.
“Adversity reveals your character,” SLU coach Lisa Stone said. “We have to embrace each other even more and recognize that we have to step up in every aspect of our game and we will. No one feels sorry for us and we’re going to get tougher than we’ve ever been and unite even more.”
Fellow post player Brooke Flowers, joined Smith Traore as the self-appointed ‘x factor’ as each represented a slash that comprised the x and it was clear that the on-court loss affected her.
“Not playing alongside her this season is tough for sure,” she said. “It makes me want to be a better leader and better captain for my teammates to pick up that gap that is there. M will be there on the sidelines leading us and helping us along the way which will be greatly appreciated. There are other post players that you haven’t seen much this season that are amazing. They have helped to make M and I better. Everybody has to step up and fill in M’s shoes.”
So who are those post players?
Sevval Gul started in Smith Traore’s place in the team’s exhibition against Illinois-Springfield. Gul is a redshirt sophomore who transferred in from Arizona. Additionally, Peyton Kennedy, Sarah Lazar and Ny Toang represent SLU’s post presence and will be asked to contribute.
Of course Flowers had a breakout freshman season and admittedly took a couple of steps back in year two. Last season, she was back to being a double-double force.
Now, with her energy and leadership, the next challenge is to make the 12-foot shot and find consistency.
In terms of guard play, senior Ciaja Harbison (16.9 ppg/76 assts/81.3% FT), an Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference First Team selection will start, that is a given. Under the watchful eyes of new assistant coach Deon Thomas, Harbison has been working more off the ball, which opposing teams have not honored as much.
In terms of guard play, Saint Louis have lost both Myia Clark and Rachel Kent to transfer, but will use Julia Martinez (4.5 ppg/4.8 rebs/40.3% FG), Marisa Warren, Natalie McNeal and Kiley Bess.
Martinez has been a steady player that took a jump last year and has done what is best for the team, putting her teammates in proper spots. Her vocality and leadership make the team more complete.
Warren is a transfer from DePaul came in halfway through the season and that combined with multiple stoppages for COVID-19 did not allow for her to get into a proper rhythm a season ago. Warren now appears confident and ready to take on a much larger role.
“I believe in her,” said Stone. “She’s doing some great things in practice, very coachable, very good shape and somebody that knows when the game is on the line she can make a play. A lot of people scout and say if you stop Ciaja, you stop everybody, that’s going to be something they think twice about because Marisa can play. I trust her on the floor.”
It appears that the trio of Harbison, Martinez and Warren will start, based on Stone’s preseason remarks and them starting in the exhibition, as she feels they click together and make the team go.
Not to be outdone, McNeal and Bess provide length and athleticism on the perimeter with the latter being a 2,500-point scorer in high school.
SLU has regularly been a defensive team under Stone and between that and rebounding are typically atop the Atlantic 10, or close to it every season.
Now, Stone wants the offense to score more points and provide a boost, especially with everyone getting a chance to play. No longer are a few players going to sit and watch, everyone will be depended upon to fill a role.
“We want to be less predictable and get out and score,” she said. “You’ll see more adjustments to pressure different areas to try and turn people over. Maybe we will take a few more risks defensively.”
A note on this video with Saint Louis coach Lisa Stone, this was done before Smith Traore’s injury. Also apologies for any technical difficulties.