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McNeese State guard Allison Baggett watches during the start of practice. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

McNeese State guard Allison Baggett watches during the start of practice. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Cowgirls begin to find their way without Baggett twins

Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2013 10:36 PM

By Albert Burford / American Press

At the first McNeese State women’s basketball press conference of the season, two players who aren’t on the roster this year were the main topic of conversation.

Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett, both of whom enjoyed storied Cowgirls careers that ended last season, will have their jerseys retired on Nov. 14 in McNeese’s game against Rice.

The No. 10 and 11 jerseys will be the first numbers retired in program history.

Ashlyn and Caitlyn finished second and third in career scoring at McNeese, respectively. They were the team’s two leading scorers for the last three seasons as well.

But the team is now in the post-twins era. During this preseason, the Cowgirls and coach Brooks Donald Williams will be faced with the difficult task of finding players to help make up for the loss of production that comes with Ashlyn and Caitlyn’s departures.

“We’re going to have to find our way again, just like any young team when you lose two very special players,” Donald Williams said. “We’ve moved on and I think we’re all ready for the questions and we’re excited.”

“Our team, even the new players, we have so many local kids that watched them play. We all understand the impact they had on our program. This group is really hungry to continue it, too. We’ve moved on, we really have. We’re going to continue to miss them as we find our identity and as we begin to gel and find who’s going to be a go-to scorer and who’s going to score and who’s going to break down the press.”

The Cowgirls have only had two practices this fall, so there hasn’t been much of a chance to prove their ability to help prevent a drop off in points this year. But Donald Williams mentioned the twins’ sister, junior guard Allison Baggett as someone who has great potential as a scorer.

“We’re going to expect her to do some things for us,” she said. “It’s going to be a little bit different. She had two sisters on the floor that she played with that drew the best two defenders. We’ve worked with Allison a lot on the difference of getting open right now, because she’s going to have a better defender on her and that’s going to make a big difference.”

Donald Williams also said junior guard Alaina Verdin, who has been sidelined with injuries for the past two summers and preseasons, is a “go-to kid” if she’s healthy.

Senior forward Cecilia Okoye, who transferred to McNeese before last year, won Newcomer of the Year last season and scored 9.1 points per game and grabbed 7.1 rebounds per game.

“She has had a good summer and preseason, too,” Donald Williams said. “I think she’s grown up a lot. She’s a tougher kid right now than she was last season. We expect her to score for us and rebound for us, too.”

The need for someone to step up has created plenty of friendly competition among the team in practice.

“I’ve never been a coach that just played veteran kids, so we’ve always had that youthful competition with our freshmen,” Donald Williams said. “I think it’s even moreso this year, because everybody sees a little twinkle. They see a little gap they could slide into. We have a very selfless team, but at the same point, they all want to play.”

The McNeese men’s basketball team opened practice on Monday, which is two weeks earlier than men’s basketball programs have been permitted to start in previous seasons.

“We’re starting to take advantage of the new rules, getting a chance to work about two weeks earlier than our original date,” said Cowboys coach Dave Simmons. “We can take a little time and be patient, work on a lot of fundamentals. We do have a few new faces out here.”

Simmons said the Cowboys’ 16 players are the most he’s ever had for practice, noting that McNeese has played stretches of games with only eight players available before.

McNeese will have its hands full with a schedule that opens at Michigan State. The tough games continue through non-conference play, as the Cowboys will participate in the NIT Season Tip-Off, which includes Alabama, Duke and Arizona in its bracket. McNeese also visits Texas A&M and LSU, hosting only two home games in its non-conference slate.

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