Lincoln women put pieces around returning core

Lincoln’s Saniya Simmons drives to the basket during a game last season  against Nebraska-Kearney at Jason Gym. (News Tribune file photo)
Lincoln’s Saniya Simmons drives to the basket during a game last season against Nebraska-Kearney at Jason Gym. (News Tribune file photo)

The Lincoln Blue Tiger women’s basketball teams feels it had a strong base to build off of with their six returning players from last year’s roster.

And the Blue Tigers went out and added three transfers and six freshmen to help complete the puzzle. Now all that’s left is to see how the pieces fit together.

Lincoln will get its first opportunity to see how the pieces fit when it opens the season at 7 p.m. today against Arkansas-Monticello in the Central Region Challenge in Mongolia, Ark.

“I think we have some really good pieces to the puzzle, it’s just a matter of putting them together,” Lincoln coach Drea Mize said. “We will see how that all jells together.”

The Blue Tigers finished last season 7-21 and 5-17 in MIAA play, but they were able to carry some momentum into the offseason by winning two of their final three games.

Lincoln will be returning a core of players from last year’s team in senior guard AJ Bradley, senior forward Miriam Bazylewicz and sophomore guards Saniya Simmons and Ashlyn Alloway.

These four helped lay the groundwork for the rest of the team on what the expectations are down the stretch of last season and into the offseason.

“For us, it was just the intensity in which they played, the intensity in which they practiced,” Mize said. “The ability to understand our expectations, both on and off the court, I think was huge. And then just the selfless play, you can’t be a selfish basketball player in the MIAA.”

The Blue Tigers will also get two key pieces back from ACL injuries in freshman wing Hanne Nybo and junior forward Imani Jones, who both missed all of last season.

Jones is expected to help fill the void forward Le’Yanna McGinnis left in the paint following her graduation, and Nybo is a player Lincoln expects to jump right into the starting lineup and produce at a high rate.

“Hanne is a redshirt freshman, but we don’t refer to her as a freshman,” Mize said of Nybo. “She’s got the whole package. … Her ability to score, her presence and her basketball IQ is huge.”

Lincoln will be helped by three transfers that are expected make an impact right away in senior guard Steph Torres (5-foot-6) from West Georgia, junior guard/forward Tatiana Beaumont (6-0) from Radford and sophomore guard Biance Stocks (5-6) from State Fair Community College and Missouri Southern previously.

The three all have one thing in common: Ability to shoot from the perimeter, something the Blue Tigers have lacked in recent memory. The versatility and shooting ability will mesh well with the five-out system Lincoln wants to run this year.

“I think the biggest thing is we needed more scoring from the wings,” Mize said. “… I really wanted to go to more of a traditional five-out system, kind of what you’re seeing across all levels right now. … We wanted to not have any limitations on the court. Everybody can shoot the ball, everybody can rip-drive, everybody can bring the basketball up.”

The Blue Tigers are looking to create mismatches with their new system and personnel.

Nybo (6-0), Beaumont, Alloway (5-11), Jones (5-11) and Bazylewicz, once she returns from injury next month, will all see time of the floor at the wing and forward positions. Pair that with smaller, quicker guards like Torres, Stocks, Simmons (5-2) and Bradley (5-3), Lincoln expects to be a tough team to match up with.

“When you look at our starting lineup, to have a 6-foot (small forward) in Hanna Nybo, that’s just tough to guard,” Mize said. “You’re going to have a mismatch when you have three six-footers and two smaller guards out there. With them having the ability to shoot the ball but also post up, it’s kind of pick your poison.”

On the defensive side, the Blue Tigers feel much stronger headed into this season than the team that gave up 73.3 points per game last year, which finished 13th in the MIAA.

Lincoln used a full-court press a lot last year but feels it won’t have to this season.

“I think when you press, you’re trying to hide something,” Mize said. “I’m not going to say we aren’t, I’m not going to say we are. I definitely have a little bit more confidence in our half-court defense than I have in previous years.”

The Blue Tigers also welcome a freshmen class of Emma Wolken (Blair Oaks High School), Kiara Cabrera, Taj Carter, Alyssa McCarty, Heaven Shockley and Korri Williams.

Lincoln feels it is set up nicely for the future with 13 players set to return for next year’s team following this season.

“We are actually pretty young,” Mize said. “We have three seniors, two juniors, a couple of sophomore and a whole bunch of freshmen. From that standpoint, we have a lot of basketball minutes on the court, but we are also very young. So we are able to learn and grow together.”

This season will be the final in the MIAA for the Blue Tigers before they move to the Great Lakes Valley Conference for the 2024-25 school year.

Mize has her sights set leaving the conference on a high note.

“I came here to win in the MIAA, it’s never really been done here at Lincoln,” she said. “… I’m really wanting to make sure we leave our mark here and then go into the GLVC with our heads held high.”