Nov. 1—The last year has been anything but normal for the Southwestern Community College women's basketball team.
With a small lineup, the Spartans had to play with four players at one point last year before canceling the remainder of the season in favor of recruitment for next year.
During their extended offseason, they lost dynamic teammate Maddie Stewart to a car crash near Afton in July.
"It's been up and down. To begin without Maddie being there it was tough," second year coach Darien Wingate said. "We're still going through it and dealing with it every day. Maddie is who we do it for, Maddie is who the season is dedicated to. We miss her every day but we will make sure her name and her presence is remembered every game and everything we do this year."
Now a team of 12 girls led by a sole returning player, Cassidy Nelson of Lenox, is ready to get the season underway Wednesday at home against Southeast Community College of Nebraska.
"We were looking for girls who fit our culture on and off the court," Wingate said. "We wanted to talk to them, get to know if they are a fit with us morally and everything else fell into place."
Joining Wingate's and assistant coach Demontez Coleman this season is assistant coach Takisha Basham of Roanoke, Virginia.
Basham comes to Southwestern from Roanoke Catholic School where she has been a basketball coach and a track and field throwing coach for boys junior varsity, as well as boys and girls middle school programs since 2018. Since 2014, Basham has been a basketball specialist at Camp Seneca Lake in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, during the summer months.
"She's been amazing," Wingate said. "She's been focused on building relationships first and foremost, that's the most important thing. They're learning to trust her on the court; she has a lot of knowledge on the court."
As Nelson takes the court as a returner for the Spartans, Wingate said fans can expect to see her play tough and fast.
"She'll be one of the best defenders in the whole conference," Wingate said. "She's fearless, can handle the ball, shoot the ball. She's a confident player who knows she can dominate."
Last season, Nelson put up an average of 16.2 points per game and was 93% from the free-throw line.
Next to Nelson is newcomer Shyla Moore from Shakopee, Minnesota. Moore's high-energy on the court delivers in defensive strength.
"I'm proud we got her, we're super lucky to have her right next to Cassidy," Wingate said. "She is the best defender in the conference, and one of the best in the country. She's fast and she's fearless as well."
Coming back after redshirting her freshman year is Mikayla Hearon from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
At point guard is Samair Colon from Ohio. "She's a gifted ball handler, gifted scorer," Wingate said. "She's tough minded, gets to the rim."
There will be plenty of opportunities to support the Spartans at home as they have 13 home games this season.
"I'm excited to look behind me and see a full team," Wingate said. "Most importantly, I'm excited for the girls to have the opportunity to play college basketball."
Tip off Wednesday is at 5:30 p.m. After the game, the men's team will host their season opener against Southeast Community College of Nebraska.
"We're getting into this new era of Southwestern women's basketball," Wingate said. "I'm just excited for us to get out there and compete and do everything this season for Maddie."