Less than 10 days remain until the start of the Kansas City Athletics women’s basketball season, and Head Coach Jacie Hoyt can’t think about the present without reflecting on the past.
“In order to talk about this season, it’s important that we reflect on last season,” Hoyt said in last week’s press conference. “Although it was a really positive year of growth, it ended in a way that stung with us.”
The stinging Hoyt alludes to is the season-ending overtime loss to New Mexico State in the quarterfinals of last year’s WAC Championship.
“That’s a feeling that’s really motivated us in the offseason,” Hoyt said. “We talk about [the loss] weekly, daily. We think about all the things we want to do this season in order to not have that feeling again.”
Hoyt is embarking on her third year coaching the Roos. Since taking over in 2017, she’s been responsible for a fantastic turnaround within the program, such as improving the team’s win total from 11 her first year to 16 last season.
With three seniors returning this season, including one who finished in the top 30 in scoring nationally (Ericka Mattingly), it’s no surprise Kansas City was picked third in the WAC preseason polls earlier this month. The team has experience, talent and a burgeoning coach on the sidelines. The only thing left to do is to run and bust the proverbial door down.
“The sky’s the limit for us,” Hoyt said. “We just want to keep pushing the envelope. Expectations are higher than ever. We’ve continued to grow and improve each year. But we don’t want to stop, we’re really motivated to take that next step.”
That next step is posting a winning record for the first time since 2012, and after that, playing in the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s such an exciting time to be here,” Hoyt said. “You see all the changes surrounding us. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be here at a time where we have so much momentum. For us, all the momentum is contributed to what the players have done.”
Who are Kansas City’s leaders?
For Kansas City to evolve from simply competitive to a team with legitimate championship hopes, it needs to establish a leader or two. One of the Roos’ primary options this season will be Ericka Mattingly. The senior guard ran Hoyt’s “run-and-gun” style offense smoothly as a junior, averaging 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6 assists and 3.2 steals per game on 35.6% shooting from the perimeter.
Mattingly’s offensive prowess is well-documented, but she’ll need a second running mate to keep Kansas City’s explosive offense, which finished 24th in points in 2019, functioning at a high level again.
Look for sophomore Emily Ivory to play that role in the Roos backcourt. Ivory’s maturation into one of the team’s leaders is vital. She’ll look to follow-up a productive freshman campaign in which she averaged 10 points while shooting 36.8% from deep.
With a year of experience behind her, Ivory is eager to become a leader this year, despite only playing one collegiate season.
“Having that one year under my belt makes me more of a leader,” Ivory said. “We have six new players, so I have to step into the leader role. Maybe some sophomores on other teams don’t have to, but I definitely have to take that role.”
Fitting the pieces
Mattingly and Ivory are the Roos’ two leading scorers, but where will the rest of the offensive production come from? Hoyt and her staff have a variety of options to turn to, notably, two transfers in forward Jada Mickens and wing Kyla Callins.
Mickens started at Hutchinson Community College before transferring to UMKC. She averaged 11 points per game while shooting 79% from the free-throw line last season. On a team that lacks size, Micken’s 6-foot frame should help immensely. Her ability to block shots (one per game last year) and control the glass (6.2 rebounds), is a much-needed bonus after the Roos lost 53% of their rebounding production this offseason. And then there’s Callins (5’11’’) who shined at Butler Community College last season. She was an impact player for the Grizzlies, with 10.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.
Even with a slew of transfers on the roster, Hoyt wants to keep the same offensive identity from last season, which relied on spacing, quick passes and three-point shooting. According to NCAA.com, the Roos hoisted 735 three-pointers in 2019, which ranked in the top 60 last year.
“It’s just kind of who I am. It’s in my DNA,” Hoyt says. “I love to play fast. I recruit players who want to play fast and want to play in that offensive scheme that gets up-and-down the floor, shoot a lot of 3s.”
What are the big games on the Roos schedule?
At first glance, the two notable games on Kansas City’s season slate are back-to-back home contests with the Missouri Tigers and Kansas State Wildcats. The Roos fell to both last season; however, with each game at Swinney Center, Hoyt believes the opportunity to perform is at an all-time high.
“We’re not looking at them thinking that it’s going to be a beat down by any means,” Hoyt said. “Last year we played Mizzou to seven points at their place, and they were a top-25 team says. We love that opportunity to face those high-level programs, and we have felt it really prepares us for the conference season.”
In addition to matchups between two of the well-known local schools, Kansas City faces stiff competition against WAC foes like regular season and tournament champion New Mexico State (home on Jan. 11 and away on Feb. 8) and second-place finisher California-Baptist (home on Jan. 25 and away on Feb. 19).