Spires women's basketball ready for first season under Kelley

Jason Brown
The Leavenworth Times
Shown is University of Saint Mary guard Jerrica Johnson. The junior was the Spires leading scorer last season averaging 13 points per game.

The University of Saint Mary women's basketball team is set to take the court for its season opener against Manhattan Christian College Tuesday inside the Ryan Sports Center in Leavenworth. 

First-year head coach Andy Kelley spoke to the media at the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference virtual media day about the program yearning for the return to normalcy this season. 

The Spires played in just 11 contests last season due to quarantines and a nearly two-month layoff because of COVID-19 precautions. Saint Mary went 4-7 in those games and ended the season with three wins in its last four. The Spires will look to replace the 32 minutes per game played by Danielle Cassady who graduated last season. 

Kelley came to the Spires after serving as an assistant coach at Baker University where the Wildcats went 90-36 during his tenure.

Most of last year's rotation is back this season with leading scorer Jerrica Johnson returning for her senior season. 

"She shouldered a lot of the load offensively last season," Kelley said, "but this year, I think she's finding that she is going to have a lot of help."

One of the helpers will be junior guard Macy Walker who is in her third year with the program. 

"She's kind of that do-it-all kid," he said. "She's the kid that I trust, she's always in the right spot and does what I need her to do. Super reliable for me."

The Spires have Rebecca Gilpin, team captain Daspin Bruning and Daija Planas back with each averaging over 20 minutes per game. 

Outside of their returning rotation, the Spires will be lacking in experience in a few ways due to the pandemic affecting their roster. Kelley said there were a number of athletes that opted out of competition last season altogether and some transfers that sat out anyway, so a good portion of the roster hasn't competed at the NAIA level in a year and a half. 

"It's a unique situation for me," he said, "because getting into this with this team, I could look at previous seasons and watch film, but I didn't know what this group was capable of until I got them on the basketball court."

Despite the challenge, Kelley said he has been satisfied with the energy he has seen from the group.

"I'm seeing a lot of these kids are fresh, excited and ready to lock in and play at our tempo," Kelley said. "It's been really exciting for me in our first few weeks of practice."

The Spires season-opener against Manhattan Christian College is scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Ryan Sports Center. Saint Mary will stay at home for its following two contests as it hosts Haskell Indian Nations University Nov. 8 and Graceland Nov. 10 before hitting the road to face Mid America Nazarene Nov. 13. For ticket and streaming information, visit gospires.com