The Lincoln women's basketball team has already faced adversity, even before the regular season begins tonight at the GAC/MIAA Challenge in Magnolia, Ark.
Preseason injuries have hampered the Blue Tigers, who are coming off a 4-23 record from the 2017-18 season.
"Everything was great, all the way up until it was time to get going," said Lincoln coach Ayana McWilliams, who enters her third season with the Blue Tigers. "Right at the first practice, that's when (the injuries) started to happen. But I'd rather deal with it now, early."
McWilliams said the goal is to have her team close to full strength by the time Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association play begins Dec. 6 at Northwest Missouri.
"The non-conference schedule is just to prepare us for conference season," McWilliams said. "Hopefully we'll have everybody back."
Regardless of the team's health, there will be plenty of new faces on the court this weekend for Lincoln, as the Blue Tigers play Southern Arkansas at 6 p.m. today and face Arkansas-Monticello at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Lincoln returns four players and the team's top two scorers from last year.
"There are a lot of new names, but they've brought a lot of competitive spirit, a lot of energy," McWilliams said. "It's just a different vibe about this group so far."
Bre Coleman, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, scored a team-high 10.7 points per game last year, her first season with the Blue Tigers. She also grabbed a team-best 7.7 rebounds per game and shot 45.6 percent from the field.
"She can guard as small as a guard because she's so athletic," McWilliams said. "I love our size inside. I'm happy to have the size inside and I think she'll make a major impact."
Lincoln's other returning starter, 5-7 sophomore shooting guard Faith Brintle, scored 10.4 points per game and knocked down 44 3-pointers as a freshman. She is also the team's leading returner in assists (59) and steals (34) and shot 91.7 percent from the free-throw line.
"What I like about the new roster is we have some kids that now Faith does not have to do as much as she did last year," McWilliams said. "We have some kids around her that will make it easier for her. Now she can focus on catching and shooting."
Stepping in a point guard is 5-6 junior Zoi Thompson, who played last season at Columbus State. In 2016-17, Thompson averaged 5.1 assists per game while helping Northwest Kansas Tech to a 28-2 record.
"She's a kid that comes in with a wealth of experience, a lot of know-how, a lot of energy," McWilliams said.
At the other shooting guard position is Shannyn Triplett, a 5-9 junior transfer from Jefferson College. She led the Vikings with 14.2 points per game last season.
"She's no stranger to putting the ball in the goal," McWilliams said. "Another kid that's a playmaker that will do a little bit of everything for us."
Joining Coleman at the other starting spot in the post is freshman Majella Carey, a 6-2 forward from Australia.
"I always forget that Majella is actually a true freshman," McWilliams said. "She has some international experience playing in (Australia's) pro league."
Senior transfer Zhanesha Dickerson will play at guard for Lincoln after previously spending time at State Fair Community College and Arkansas-Fort Smith. She has accumulated 1,021 career points, averaging double figures in each of her first three seasons.
"You'll see her play a little bit of one through five," McWilliams said.
Senior guard Tempary Gunter and sophomore center Alecia Kaelke will return off the bench for the Blue Tigers, although Gunter could see some time in the starting lineup early in the season.
Freshmen Majella Carey and Kiara Shoulders also started in Sunday's exhibition game at Missouri State, a 100-54 loss for the Blue Tigers. Junior transfer Alecia Gulledge also came off the bench in that game.
"We had kids step up to the plate and play out of position," McWilliams said of playing just seven players against Missouri State. "But they didn't back down from the competition."
After returning this weekend from Arkansas, Lincoln will play eight of its next 11 games at home in Jason Gym. The home opener is at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Stephens College.
"It's really exciting to be able to play so many games in front of our home fans, especially with a lot of new kids," McWilliams said.
One of the things McWilliams wants to see her team do early in the season is finish games. The Blue Tigers lost seven games last season by single digits, including two overtime contests.
"Our motto is, 'We play as fast as we can function,'" she said. "We don't want to turn the ball over 1,000 times, but it's just about being able to gut things out.
"We have to get over that hump."