Chastadie Barrs prepares to crossover an opponent, Tuesday, in their first annual Red and White Scrimmage at the Montagne Center.

Chastadie Barrs prepares to crossover an opponent, Tuesday, in their first annual Red and White Scrimmage at the Montagne Center.

Lamar University’s women’s basketball team is picked to finish in first place in the Southland Conference for the upcoming season. The Lady Cards posted a 22-8 overall and 15-3 SLC record last year, making it to the conference tournament before being knocked off by SFA, 48-62. This year the Lady Cardinals return all five starters and are looking to dominate the season.

“I think that we have a lot of talent,” head coach Robin Harmony said. “We’re athletic. We’re competitive. We’re getting tougher mentally. We have our veterans returning, that is a positive. Two of the three games we lost last year were on the road. We should have won and it costs us a championship.

“Our kids know that and they’ve learned that you just never know. I think that’s a strength now that we have veterans coming back.”

Lamar returns 10 players and five starters, among those, three have been selected first-team preseason All-Southland Conference — Kiandra Bowers, Chastadie Barrs and Moe Kinard.

“I’m not going to say I don’t really care about the rankings, but I’m just here to play,” junior guard Kinard said. “I want to get a ring. The ring is what I’m focused on right now. I want two, one for conference and one for the tournament. That’s what I want.”

Mixed in with the returners, the roster contains five freshmen, including new starter Jadyn Pimentel from Saint Louis, Mo.

“It’s a great feeling really,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to happen, but it’s a good feeling. Now I just have to keep my spot as a starter. I’m going to make sure I’m prepared for the season. It’s going to be hard. It’s very intense. In high school, you are doing it for the school, but at Lamar it’s structured, organized — it’s very different.”

The Lady Cardinals have a tough non-conference schedule, Harmony said.

“We start out with Baylor, and when we play Baylor they are going to be ranked second in the nation, probably,” she said. “We go to Purdue and they’ll be in the top 25, along with New Mexico. We go to UTSA for a tournament over Thanksgiving break. They are the four big games that will help prepare us for conference.”

Moe Kinard jumps in the air to attempt a two-point shot in front of a defender in Tuesday’s Red and White Scrimmage at the Montagne Center.

Moe Kinard jumps in the air to attempt a two-point shot in front of a defender in Tuesday’s Red and White Scrimmage at the Montagne Center.

Harmony said she expects the other SLC teams to try and bump them off their spot at the top.

“I think we are just trying to work on our non-conference schedule and get prepared to play in conference,” she said. “As a No. 1 seed, I think that every team in the conference will come here and try to give us their A-game. Every game we have to make sure we are prepared for, not take anyone lightly, no matter where they’ve been picked. Central Arkansas is still a very good team. Stephen F. Austin and New Orleans, I think have all their starters back, and then the rest of the conference is pretty young, except with a couple kids that are back in Incarnate Word and Southeastern. But, as a whole unit, it would be those three teams.”

Harmony said she would have been surprised if LU hadn’t been picked at the No. 1 spot.

“I know that there are some schools that voted for other teams in our conference, so it wasn’t like a landslide of everybody voting us No. 1,” she said. “But, we have five starters back, we have good classes we’ve signed as far as our freshmen and sophomore class. A lot of our starters are juniors and we only graduate one senior that is a starter and three altogether — Kiandra Bowers, Baileigh O’Dell and DeA’ngela Mathis.

“So, we are still kind of young, but we suffered when these kids were young. That’s all we talked about, but now we’ve been there. They’ve been to the tournament, they know what it’s like. We have three players picked pre-season All-Conference. We have all the tools, we’ve just got to do the job.”

Harmony said she sees her team making it all the way to the NCAA tournament.

“I think that we should be able to win regular season,” she said. “We should be able to win our conference tournament. We should go to the NCAA tournament.”

Harmony said that depends on the RPI (rating percentage index) at the end of the year. There are 351 Division I teams.

“Our RPI last year was 134, so that means we’re on the upper crest of the teams in the tournament,” she said. “If we win our conference tournament we have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“Obviously, the No.1 team plays the No. 16 team, (but) if we can get into the 12 or 13 spot we have a chance to get a W — at least have a shot. But if we are the 16 seed playing the No.1, like UCONN, Baylor or something, there is no way. The odds are a billion to one. That’s why we are trying to play a tougher non-conference schedule. We have some kids that could have been on top 25 teams, but they might not have been starters or would have waited two years to get into the starting lineup. Instead, they came here where they can be a difference maker. They have something to prove to those teams.”

Free throws and mental toughness are two things the team needs to work on before playing the first game, Harmony said.

“Last year we were last in free throws in our conference,” she said. “We’re trying to get kids to come in on their own and they have been. This is the only team, since we’ve been at Lamar, that come in on their own and are working. Before it would be one or two kids, now, just yesterday, on their day off, I had eight kids in there getting shots up on their own. You see the change for us. They want to get better. They want to improve. They don’t just want to wish they are better shooters. That just comes with time and repetition.

“We also need to work on mental toughness. Last year, when things were going our way, we were OK. When we hit adversity, whether it was the officials or being on the road or not hitting shots, we got in slumps. Now we have been practicing that. If you are a shooter and your shots aren’t going in, you don’t just go and pout, you say, ‘OK, I can play defense, I can rebound, I can get steals, I can help my team in other ways.’ That is a maturity-level thing.”

Harmony said the team is always looking to improve in practice.

“We’re just trying to put our scheme in of our offenses, defenses,” she said. “It takes us a while. We are a defensive team. We do a special press where we press for 40 minutes and have to learn the spots and rotations, it takes a while to get that. Every day we put in like one or two new things, so we can get everything in.”

Kinard said she is ready for the season no matter what the outcome is.

“I am excited,” she said. “I’m ready. It feels like last season was yesterday, but it’s a new day, a new season, a new year, so we have to go get it.”

The Lady Cardinals will play Baylor University in Waco, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.

Story by Cassandra Jenkins, UP sports editor

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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