As she set about restructuring her team for a new season, Lisa Stone leaned on two seniors and a group reading project outside of her own practices.
Much of what the St. Louis University women’s basketball coach has known for four seasons is gone. What remains is a group that will try to build on the unprecedented accomplishments of recent years.
That’s where guards Jordyn Frantz and Kerri McMahan and author Jon Gordon’s “The Power of a Positive Team” come in. The players have brought contrasting approaches that elicit raves from their coach. The book was about helping a large influx of new talent to learn the principles of teamwork.
“Kerri and Jordyn are playing like seniors on a mission,” Stone said. “They are two leaders in very different styles. Jordyn is going to take a player for a cup of coffee or ice cream if she needs to be picked up. Kerri is going to say, ‘Come on, I’ll shoot with you.’ This summer their mission was that way.”
The Billikens lost six players, including their top four scorers, top four rebounders and top three in assists. That group was the core that helped SLU reach unequaled heights, posting a record of 66-30 the last three seasons, reaching the WNIT three times and tying for the Atlantic 10 championship in 2016.
Frantz and McMahan are the most experienced returning players. They give Stone a good backcourt tandem around which to build as she incorporates freshman point guard Ciaja Harbison into the spot held for four seasons by Jackie Kemph, the program’s all-time points and assists leader.
SLU has five freshmen who form the highest-rated recruiting class in the program’s history. The group was ranked No. 33 in the country by Blue Star Basketball, and Stone said all will be asked to contribute, with two possibly taking spots in the starting lineup.
To put the players on the right path, Stone had everyone read Gordon’s book. The team met weekly to discuss each chapter, finishing a week before the season opener Friday night at Eastern Kentucky.
“The whole thing is we vs. me. We have to do this thing together,” Stone said. “So offensively and defensively, put your personal pride aside and sacrifice what you have to do for the team.”
The Billikens will face a challenging schedule that includes a visit from No. 2-ranked Connecticut and No. 16 Missouri in a six-day span in early December. But Stone said the much-anticipated meeting with the 11-time national champion Huskies has not been mentioned.
She is busy dealing with the unknown and how to handle the present.
Frantz is the most proven scorer, having averaged 8.2 points as a junior and 11.5 as a sophomore. McMahan averaged 4.4 points last season and was one of the first two players off the bench.
Stone will have more height and more physicality to rely upon with three players who are 6-feet-5, including senior Tara Dusharm, transfer Amber Lindfors and freshman Brooke Flowers (Metro Academic and Classical High). Other returning players vying for time are guard Tasia Jeffries, forward Kendra Wilken and guard Lauryn Hughes.
The freshman to watch is Harbison, a top-100 recruit from Louisville.
“Ciaja is great in the open court,” Stone said. “Her pull-up is ridiculous. She’s fun to watch. Ciaja to me is going to be one of the best freshmen in the league. She’s little, but she’s tough and quick and likes to guard. But all of the freshmen are going to have to play, and I told them that.”
As the season opens, freshman forward Evan Zars is among the starters. She is 6-2, moves well and is described by Stone as a “stretch four” — a power forward who can stretch defenses with her perimeter shooting.
Meanwhile, Stone still was waiting Wednesday for a ruling from the NCAA on an appeal to allow Marquette transfer Myriama Smith Traore to play this season.
Stone believes she has a strong perimeter shooting team. Frantz is a proven 3-point threat. She said freshman Chloe Rice has a “textbook shot.” Freshman Myia Clark was an Illinois state qualifier in the Queen of the Hill 3-point shooting competition as a sophomore.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” Stone said. “We were picked to finish seventh in the A-10, and I hope we can surprise some people. It’s certainly not where we want to end up.”