The coronavirus pandemic has affected many aspects of people’s lives and sports are no exception.
Throughout the ongoing pandemic, followers of Governors athletics have been left to wonder how their favorite APSU team has been affected and what to look forward to when teams are tentatively able to compete. This week, fans will be updated on the effects that COVID-19 has placed on the women’s basketball team.
Unlike many teams, APSU women’s basketball was able to complete last year’s season with a first-round exit in the OVC Tournament on March 4 to Belmont. While the team is not having to battle with a semester-long postponement of their season, the pandemic still plagued many of their offseason activities that included aspects such as recruiting, summer workouts and much more.
“It was definitely different,” head coach of the Govs, David Midlick said. “It was like no other year. If things get back to where they were pre-2020, we will incorporate a lot of what we did this year…I give a lot of credit to my three coaches.”
Even amidst the pandemic, the Governors welcome four new freshman and a junior college transfer to an already loaded squad that is coming off their best record since the 2003-04 season at 18-12.
With the incoming class, the team is bringing in some much needed height after losing Arielle Gonzalez-Varner and Nieja Crawford, the latter now a graduate assistant on the team. Of the five incoming players, three of them – Selina Dockery, Ashlynn Freeman and Kemia Ward – stand 6’0 and above and are listed as forwards. Nina De Leon Negron and Jayla Kimbrough round out the rest of the recruiting class and add depth to an already dynamic back court.
The Govs will be returning a veteran-led team to the court this year that is highlighted by seniors Tahanee Bennell, Myah LeFlore, Kelen Kenol and Brianah and Brandi Ferby. Coach Midlick spoke highly on his seniors returning back to campus in shape after the unprecedented offseason, most notably in Bennell and LeFlore.
“Our seniors, especially Tahanee and Myah, have come back in shape.” Midlick said. “They were leaders last year and are in even more of a leadership role this year. They set the pace and tone for practice. Any coach will tell you that player-led is a whole lot better than coach-led. Tahanee and Myah have the respect of their fellow teammates that they; number one, know what they are talking about and number two, back it up with their actions.”
Bennell, a native of Tasmania, Australia, and a JUCO product from Northern Oklahoma College, enters her second season as a Governor. The senior is known as a vocal leader for the team.
Over the offseason, Bennell – along with the other seniors – organized a regular workout routine together so that the program could stay in shape and connected even with some members, such as herself, on the other side of the world.
“This wasn’t organized by the coaches, but the seniors,” Bennell added. “We organized a weekly workout together over ball skills. We all got on zoom one day a week for 40 minutes and just did ball handling workouts together. We did that pretty much every week that we were away from school.”
Even with the team still being in the early stages of practice in preparation for the season, Bennell says that the chemistry they have already built in the locker room is unmatched. According to the senior, the chemistry comes largely due to the terrific recruiting done by Midlick and his staff.
“The coaches did such a good job with recruiting,” the guard said. “With the personalities off and on the court, we just gel, and it’s awesome. They are all adding their own little characteristic into our team that is going to help us win. With the personalities, the practices are fun. Obviously, the freshmen are still learning the ropes, but it’s good. I know us upperclassmen and returners are really enjoying having the newcomers come in. They have already given us a good energy. The future for this year is looking really good if we are given the chance.”
Coming into the 2020-21 season Bennell, a fifth-year senior, has one goal in mind when the season tips-off in a couple of months.
“I’ve been here for five years, and I don’t have a ring yet,” the senior said on her goal for the upcoming season. “The goal is always to win, to win every game, but I want a ring. Every senior wants to finish with a ring, so that’s my goal.”
Last season, the team shattered the program record for three-pointers in a season. The Govs were also ranked top-10 nationally in forced turnovers with 710. With even more depth throughout the team this year, look for the Governors to continue to shine in their 3-and-D scheme.
Under Midlick and the Govs’ eight upperclassmen, APSU women’s basketball is motivated and ready to make a run for the OVC title come March.