North Texas Women Plan To 'Make A Lot Of Noise This Year'
North Texas Has New Expectations, Standards After Last Season's Success
DENTON — Since arriving to North Texas in 2013, the Mean Green seniors have always felt as long shots. They’d never been picked to do well and have never finished with a winning record.
But after a program-changing first year under head coach Jalie Mitchell in 2015-16, when North Texas more than doubled its previous season’s win total, had numerous program firsts and has drastically improved its roster, now those seniors have never had this much anticipation headed into a season.
“I have a lot of confidence in this team this year,” senior forward Terra Ellison said. “I know we have a lot on our backs but we can handle it well and can continue to improve the program and do a whole lot better than we did last year.”
“I think we’ll make a lot of noise this year,” she added.
Under the guidance of 2002 North Texas graduate Mitchell, the return of three seniors that started a year ago and the addition of eight newcomers, the program without a winning season in 10 years has become a legitimate Conference USA contender with a goal of winning 20 games, a feat the program hasn’t accomplished since Mitchell’s senior season in Denton.
Last season, North Texas mustered an 11-win season, besting the prior year’s of five, defeated No. 17 Oklahoma on the road for the program’s first win over a ranked opponent, beat Metroplex rival SMU for the first time since 2011, and in March won its first C-USA Tournament game.
The Mean Green accomplished all this while having only 10 eligible players, but for the most part no more than eight at hand.
Along with doubling its win total, North Texas improved its field goal percentage by an NCAA-best 7.23 percent. They averaged 9.5 more points per game and 4.3 more assists per game.
Though the team made program-changing strides a year ago, Mitchell has stated the makeup of this year’s team is completely different. How quickly eight newcomers can adjust to the culture, system and expectations will determine the legacy of this year’s team and if they can continue to grow the program.
“We only have five returning players who played minutes last year, so pretty much every one is new,” Mitchell said. “There’s been a lot of learning and a lot of teaching.”
“The big key for us is building chemistry. We need to do it as quickly as possible if we really want to achieve all of our goals,” she added.
Of the eight newcomers, four are transfers who are expected to be the keystones of these newfound expectations.
Three of the four transfers are guards who come from power-five conferences, where they played in big games every week. They’ve added tremendous depth to the backcourt and most importantly give Mitchell options on her bench, which she didn’t have last year.
The fourth transfer is sophomore post player Micayla Buckner, a transfer from Collin Community College. The Garland native, who began her college career at Baylor, is a 6-foot-3 post who eats up space and is contending for the starting center spot.
Competing with Buckner is freshman Hannah Hopkins. A Houston area native, Hopkins also stands at 6-foot-3 and is North Texas’ tallest freshman since 2007. A former volleyball player, Hopkins has supreme athleticism for a freshman and once she gets comfortable with the college game will likely see considerable playing time.
Another freshman battling in the post is Jada Poland. Though she stands just under 6-feet, she has the length of a much taller post combined with the speed of a guard. A prolific scorer in high school — she once scored 40 points in a game — Poland like Buckner and Hopkins adds length and depth to a team and a position that had none last season.
“We didn’t have the experience we have now,” Mitchell said. “So we’re a totally different team. We’ll be able to do a whole lot more as a group. But, again, the timing of that will be determined by how quickly our newcomers come along.”
With the added depth, experience, talent and change in culture, the Mean Green were picked by C-USA coaches to finish sixth this year, seven spots higher than they finished a year ago. No other team in the conference is projected to make that big of a jump.
The general perception of North Texas might be different than what the Mean Green seniors are used to, but what isn’t different is how they carry themselves.
“Ever since I’ve been here, North Texas has been an underdog,” Ellison said. “Even during last season we didn’t let the success get to our head. We proved a lot to people, but I think this year we’re going to prove more.”
2016-17 SCHEDULE NOTES
- North Texas opens the 2016-17 season on the road at University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Preseason WNIT on Nov. 11. It’s the second time the Mean Green have been invited to play in the tournament. The only other time was in 2006. One team per conference is invited and typically given to a program on the rise.
Of the 16 teams in the Preseason WNIT, five made the NCAA Tournament last season, including Washington, which made the 2016 Final Four and in the 2016-17 preseason Associated Press poll as the No. 17 ranked team. The AP preseason No. 1 ranked team Notre Dame also is in this year’s Preseason WNIT.
North Texas’ Nov. 22 game at Arizona marks the program’s 40th anniversary. The Mean Green’s first game was at Baylor on Nov. 22, 1976.
On Nov. 30 North Texas will travel to SMU. If they win it'd be the first time since 1982 they have beaten the Mustangs in consecutive seasons.
North Texas’ first conference game is on Dec. 30 against Charlotte.
Seven of the Mean Green’s last 11 regular-season games are on the road.
North Texas’ Jan. 21 game against Louisiana Tech and March 2 matchup against Western Kentucky will be aired on ESPN3. Both games are at home.