Women’s basketball not satisfied with last year’s WBI Championship

Guard+Ashley+Polacek+advances+on+a+North+Texas+defender+in+during+the+WBI+Championship+last+season.+The+women%27s+basketball+team+is+about+to+start+its+next+season+now+and+plans+to+keep+this+momentum+going.
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Women’s basketball not satisfied with last year’s WBI Championship

Guard Ashley Polacek advances on a North Texas defender in during the WBI Championship last season. The women's basketball team is about to start its next season now and plans to keep this momentum going.

Guard Ashley Polacek advances on a North Texas defender in during the WBI Championship last season. The women's basketball team is about to start its next season now and plans to keep this momentum going.

Lynette Files

Guard Ashley Polacek advances on a North Texas defender in during the WBI Championship last season. The women's basketball team is about to start its next season now and plans to keep this momentum going.

Lynette Files

Lynette Files

Guard Ashley Polacek advances on a North Texas defender in during the WBI Championship last season. The women's basketball team is about to start its next season now and plans to keep this momentum going.

Silas Albright, Sports Editor

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When the final buzzer sounded last season and confetti poured onto the floor of Holmes Convocation Center, the App State women’s basketball team was soaking in its Women’s Basketball Invitational championship victory. 

Six months later, the Mountaineers have shifted from celebration to preparation for the upcoming season. App State is back at work, with hopes of claiming a bigger, better payoff at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season.

“I think that experience made our team hungry for so many reasons,” head coach Angel Elderkin said. “Now, they understand postseason and what it is, and they got a taste of it. I definitely believe this team wants more.”

The Mountaineers return four of five starters from last year’s squad, including senior center Bayley Plummer, redshirt senior point guard Ashley Polacek, junior forward Lainey Gosnell and junior guard Pre Stanley.

“When I look at our team, obviously, last year we had a senior in Madi Story, and this year, it’s like we have a leadership council in terms of how much experience we have returning,” Elderkin said. “We have different players that step up in different moments.” 

Plummer has proven herself as a reliable force for the Mountaineers, starting every game the past two seasons. Last year, she set the program single-season rebounding record by hauling in 463. She’s currently third on the all-time App State rebounding list, with 990. Plummer’s 12.9 rebounds per game were first in the Sun Belt and sixth in the nation a season ago.

Aside from her production on the court, Plummer is part of the “leadership council” Elderkin talked about.

“(She) just knows what we want as coaches and is able to echo what we want and kind of hold her own on the court,” Elderkin said. 

The team went 12-19 Plummer’s freshman year and 8-23 her sophomore year, before finishing last season at 22-14. 

“It was definitely great to finally see some kind of success after a couple rough years there, so it was good to finally turn it around,” Plummer said. “Obviously the WBI was something good, but we want to strive for more, something better.” 

Polacek is another experienced starter returning for the Mountaineers. The Ottawa, Canada native spent two seasons at UCF before transferring to App State in 2017. She sat out her first year due to NCAA eligibility rules and played her first season for the Mountaineers last year, starting all 36 games and leading the team in assists with 4.4 per game, which was tied for second in the Sun Belt. 

“Last year, I watched a lot of film with coach Cristina (Centeno). Even my first year when I transferred and wasn’t able to play, I still watched film from the girls playing while I wasn’t there, so I got used to (the system),” Polacek said. “Now that I’ve done it, this year is definitely more consistent, now that I’ve been exposed to it on film and on the court.”

Gosnell returns after having a productive sophomore campaign starting every game for the Mountaineers and leading the team in scoring during Sun Belt play, with 12.4 points per game. 

“I think Lainey is one of those players that’s just primed, in terms of leadership ability,” Elderkin said. “She works really hard and she’s able to have those tough conversations,”

Gosnell also developed a strong relationship with Story, who graduated after last year in the all-time App State top 20 in scoring, free throws made and rebounding. 

“The past two seasons, we were fortunate to have Madi Story. I think what people don’t know, is that last year, Madi did have like a ‘wing-man’ in Lainey,” Elderkin said. “She was kind of grooming Lainey.” 

With the amount of returning leadership and experience, Elderkin said she’s never been around a team like this. 

“With this team, there hasn’t been one emerged leader, and so this team is different,” Elderkin said. “As a coach, you have to navigate that. I think at times, I feel a responsibility that maybe this year, I have to be the captain and they follow my lead. Every team is so different, and you never want to force a player into a leadership role if it’s not who they are.”

With the shared leadership on the team, the chemistry on the team is also very high, according to Stanley, who was named the MVP of the WBI Tournament after averaging 19.3 across the four games. Stanley was also the team’s second leading scorer a season ago, averaging 11.3 points per game overall. 

“We’re all like sisters,” Stanley said. “When you’re all on the same mission and want to get the same thing done, it makes it even better.”

Although the Mountaineers return a solid group of experience and leadership, the team isn’t the same as last year. 

“We’re going to be a different basketball team because I think on any given night, we have a lot of different weapons, and we can present a problem for our opponents, but that’s if we continue to grow and stay healthy,” Elderkin said.

App State has four newcomers to the program in freshmen Jackie Christ and Nora Galve and transfers Michaela Porter and Janay Sanders to help with the graduation of star point guard Story. 

Sanders must sit this season out due to NCAA transfer rules, but as a graduate transfer, Porter is eligible immediately. 

“I really like where our freshman Jackie Christ is at, she’s a post player that we think can come in and earn herself some time,” Elderkin said. “We also have a transfer in (Michaela) Porter, who we’re going to ask for minutes. If we can be a deep team, we could be very dangerous.” 

Last year was a successful turnaround year for them, but the Mountaineers haven’t become complacent or satisfied with their past accomplishments.

“No one is losing focus,” Stanley said. “Yeah, we got the WBI, but that’s not our main goal this year. We’re looking to get a Sun Belt Conference Championship, and everybody is on the same mission. We’re not settling for anything less.”  

The Mountaineers tip off their season with a home exhibition matchup against Lees-McRae on Oct. 30.