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McNeese State head women's basketball coach Brooks Donald Williams talks to the team during the Cowgirls' first practice on Monday. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)<br>

McNeese State head women's basketball coach Brooks Donald Williams talks to the team during the Cowgirls' first practice on Monday. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Cowgirls open season with first practice

Last Modified: Monday, October 01, 2012 10:01 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Perhaps it is no coincidence that McNeese State has won the Southland Conference tournament in the two years since women's basketball coaches nationally voted to move the first official day of practice to Oct. 1 from the middle of the month.

Teams still have the same number of practice sessions, but the ability to space them out more seems to have benefited teams like the Cowgirls.

"I love starting Oct. 1," said McNeese coach Brooks Donald Williams. "Our preseason now is so nice. It's a great progression for the kids. They get to have some individual instruction and then you get to add a team workout here and there. There's a lot more learning rather than starting when the men do and when we used to where you feel like you have to cram everything in."

The Cowgirls hit the court for the first time this season on Monday evening, and it was evident that the early practices may benefit this year's group even more than the two previous teams — not due to a lack of execution, but rather a lack of familiar faces.

Fifth-year senior guards Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett are still the stalwarts of this team, but gone is the familiar nucleus of Kendra Wells, Raiyawna Gatlin, Martika Hull and Candace LaCombe.

Taking their place are six newcomers: freshmen Allison Baggett, Jayln Johnson, Jasmine Prophet, Charity Robinson and junior-college transfers Cecilia Okoye and Arianna James. A fifth freshman, Shalyn Riley, will look to play after redshirting last season with a knee injury.

"We lost a very important senior class," Donald Williams said. "It's a big transition. But what better people to do that with than Ashlyn, Caitlyn and Adrienne (Minor), who are all fifth-year seniors. It's an important preseason. We have a lot to learn defensively. That's probably the main thing."

Ashlyn Baggett looks forward to playing with her younger sister and the rest of the newcomers, whom she thinks will keep the "older girls" sharp heading into the season.

"It's a lot more teaching this year, but it's a good thing," Ashlyn said. "They bring a new spark to the team. It's a different energy. It's going to bring the young out of all the older girls. Everyone's trying to fight hard and establish themselves."

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