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story.lead_photo.caption Alecia Gulledge is expected to start at a shooting guard spot for Lincoln this season. Photo by Jenna Kieser / News Tribune.

The Lincoln women's basketball team addressed a significant issue this offseason: lineup depth.

The Blue Tigers often had just seven players available for the entire game during the second half of last season, and foul trouble complicated their depth issue even more.

They're hoping that's less of an issue as they tip off tonight's season opener against Southern Arkansas in the Central Region Challenge at Monticello, Ark. Tip-off is at 5 p.m.

"Our biggest concern was just trying to stay healthy," Lincoln coach Ayana McWilliams said. "Last year, we had three ACL injuries.

"We changed what we did, and our focal area in the weight room, that was one of the biggest things. Just managing kids through preseason, not really wearing them out and running them into the ground early."

The Blue Tigers will face Arkansas Montciello on Saturday.

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Lincoln returns just five players from last year's roster, making for a busy offseason of recruiting.

Of the seven newcomers to the roster, five players come to Jefferson City from overseas.

"They really just fell into our lap," McWilliams said. "It seems like we went out and just looked for international kids, but we went out and tried to fill the gaps where we felt like we needed to get better."

One of the international newcomers, junior Natasha Dolinsky, will start at point guard for the Blue Tigers.

"She played two years of juco over here as well," McWilliams said of Dolinsky, who transferred from Barton Community College. "A kid with a lot of experience who can stretch the floor for us a little bit."

At shooting guard will be Natasha Elliott, the only true freshman on Lincoln's roster.

"She's long, she's lengthy and she's got size and ability to catch and shoot 3s," McWilliams said.

Alecia Gulledge, a senior who is the only returning starter from last season, will start at the Blue Tigers' other shooting guard position.

"Last year, she played a lot of the four spot for us," McWilliams said. "This year, she'll be a little bit of a small forward, being that we filled out a lot at the post spots."

Filling those post positions are Anna Munoz Vidueira, a 6-foot-3 sophomore center, and Virja Lewis, a 6-0 junior.

"We've got a lot of new faces in the lineup early," McWilliams said. "These are two kids who we think can give us an inside presence."

Kaloni Pryear, a 5-6 senior, will be one of the first players off the bench for the Blue Tigers. Sophomore guard Kiara Shoulders will also play significant minutes this season.

Vivian Chigby, a 5-11 junior forward, had a double-double in Lincoln's 70-61 exhibition loss Sunday against Langston.

"She's a super-athletic forward who is guard-oriented and can do a little bit of everything," McWilliams said. "I like versatile kids who can stretch the floor a little bit, put it on the floor and get to the cup."

Faith Brintle, who missed all of last season due to an ACL injury, will also miss the start of the season with a second injury that occurred during the summer. McWilliams is hopeful to have Brintle back on the court by the start of next semester.

Rounding out the roster are Kyessence Collins, Nia McCaskill and Vedrana Radosavljevic.

Lincoln began the preseason with a 109-32 loss to Missouri State, which reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 last season.

"They're going to go back. I can assure you, they're going to make a deep run," McWilliams said. "They opened our eyes a lot. They didn't take it easy on us."

After this weekend's games, six of the Blue Tigers' next nine games will be at Jason Gym to finish 2019.

"It's going to be challenging, but it will allow us to see that early success," McWilliams said. "We've got some competitive GLVC schools that I think are going to challenge us, and we'll get to see what we're made of before going into conference play."

Conference play starts Dec. 5 at home against Northwest Missouri, which was swept by Lincoln last season in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association play.

"I think if we can manage to stay healthy and get better every day, we hope to make it to Kansas City," McWilliams said.

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