Starting the two-year project

The squad that takes the floor Friday against Western Michigan will be playing together in full for two years.

The Eastern women’s basketball team doesn’t have any seniors on the roster this season. Instead, the Panthers have four juniors, four sophomores, one red-shirt freshman, and five freshmen.

Two of the four juniors are transfers that are new to the Eastern system this season. The Panthers have a total eight new players who are learning head coach Brady Sallee’s system.

With no seniors on the team this season, leadership is coming from the experienced sophomores and juniors, which makes the lack of seniors a minor absence.

“I’m more interested in having talent than seniors,” Sallee said.

Sallee said he believes this season’s team, although young, has a lot of talent. Already, he said he is seeing leaders emerge from the pack of youngsters.

Players like sophomore guard Ta’Kenya Nixon and junior forward Chantelle Pressley have been vocal leaders this offseason, according to Sallee.

Sallee said part of the reason Nixon and Pressley have turned into natural leaders this season is because they have credibility in what they say.

“They’ve been through the riggers,” Sallee said.

Sallee said having credibility is more important than the class you are in. Credibility is also coming from the other players in the sophomore class: Kelsey Wyss, Sydney Mitchell and Mariah King.

Wyss, Mitchell and King come into play when one of the new players is having a tough day – when Sallee is in their face during practice.

“Those kids can say, ‘Hey, that was me last year. I was the one he was on’,” Sallee said.

For Nixon, being a leader as a sophomore is no big deal.

Nixon said she wants to take on the role of a leader on the team.

With all of the new faces, King said everybody has to be a leader.

Without seniors, Sallee said the players and coaches are excited about the prospects of having all 14 players for two years. After that, 10 of the players will still have one more year together, as this season’s sophomores will be seniors.

“We have a chance to make a two-year run here and do some things that have never been done in this program,” Sallee said.

Given the success of the team over the past two seasons – accomplishing a record of 47-20 – Sallee said the potential for the team in the next two seasons says a lot about the team.

One pitfall, Sallee said is the success of each of the classes on this season’s team, never having experience a losing season.

“That could creep up and get us if we don’t recognize it,” Sallee said.

For that reason, Sallee said the coaches are going have to look out for signs that show the team is being affected. However, Sallee said he and the coaches are excited about it, and excited about teaching new talent everything from getting drinks of water to logistics.

“It has been a little bit rejuvenating because we had to get back out there and coach, whereas the last couple years we’ve had to manage,” Sallee said.

The two-year project will begin at 7 p.m. Friday in Kalamazoo, Mich. against Western Michigan.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 581-7944 or admcn[email protected].