Head coach Renee Ladner enters her second season in charge when Ole Miss begins preseason practice Friday. Ladner is expecting a return to the postseason after injuries, difficult scheduling and close losses combined for an unimpressive final record of 13-16 (6-8 SEC) in her debut.
Coaching a relatively young team to begin with, All-SEC candidate Alliesha Easley went down with an ACL injury during the season opener against Nebraska, while athletic guards Shantell Black and Kayla Melson dealt with nagging ailments throughout much of the early season.
The rest of the Rebels' roster was largely inexperienced, but those tough moments of adversity have brought about a new level of optimism heading into Friday.
"It is like we were all freshmen again last season," guard Elizabeth Robertson said. "Alliesha gets hurt, and none of us had really played a lot except for Shawn (Goff). Coach Ladner was in her first year, and the load got put on all our backs. It was tough, but we are ready this time. We knew hanging in could only help later. And now it's later."
What was a green group attempting to replace the battle-tested trio of Ashley Awkward, Armintie Price and Jada Mincy is now a unit set on returning to tournament play. Frustration from last season grew in part because the roster was filled with players that weren't used to losing.
"You have to decide how to harness the ups and downs," Robertson said. "We let the difficulty affect us early on, and it took into the SEC season to get comfortable."
The mental side of the season-long grind is sometimes more difficult than the physical one, but Ole Miss seems prepared for whatever happens. With Easley healthy after surgery and chemistry better due to continuity, the next few weeks are about ironing out details and executing instead of a system overhaul.
"No matter how prepared you think you are, there is a transition period when becoming the head coach," Ladner said. "You might have given 10,000 suggestions in your career, but now it is 10,000 decisions, little bit of a difference.
"This is a hard working group, and we are excited about the season. There is experienced depth, and there are guards that can get the ball up the floor. And Alliesha feels good. The difference with her out there is indescribable."
The Rebels open play on Nov. 15 in Rock Hill, S.C., for a tournament hosted by Winthrop, and after a stop at Louisiana Lafayette, Ole Miss has its home opener Nov. 21 against Memphis.
Last season's expectations were halted early by seven nonconference losses, so getting off to a good start is essential for a team that many of its players remember the Elite Eight run. This past year was the first missed postseason since 2003.
"We need to redeem ourselves from that last year," Robertson said. "That wasn't Ole Miss basketball, and although there was some adversity, you have to make things happen.
"This time, we need to forget the struggling, but remember the lessons we learned. Experience helps when you learn from it."
Lady Rebs Set for Preseason Work
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