New Look Lady Raiders

New coach Candi Whitaker's challenge will be meshing a lot of new parts together this season. Five new starters will take the floor for Texas Tech tonight on opening night. The Lady Raiders lost four starters to graduation and junior center Kelsi Baker to a leg injury. Despite all the fresh faces, there is a plenty of talent to make some noise this year.

There is a new era in Lady Raider basketball.

It's not just a new coaching era. There are five new starters on the floor for Texas Tech this season. The Lady Raiders lost four starters to graduation and junior center Kelsi Baker to a leg injury. Baker is out for the season.

Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt knew the Lady Raiders were going to be a young program this season. After Head Coach Kristy Curry left for Alabama, Hocutt knew he would need someone who could recruit to Texas Tech. With so many Division I coaches coming out of the Texas Tech program regardless of the sport, Hocutt realized a Texas Tech graduate was best.

Hocutt called Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair, who said he will eventually retire as the Aggies top man. Sheryl Swoopes and Krista Gerlich had just been picked up by smaller programs for their first Division I coaching jobs. There were other former Lady Raiders out there, but Hocutt picked someone with Division I head coaching experience and Big 12 chops. Candi Whitaker, who played point guard under legendary Head Coach Marsha Sharp, was named the sixth head coach in Lady Raider basketball history.

Whitaker, a native of Canyon, TX, inherited a small group of talented players.

The guard play, led by junior Amber Battle and redshirt freshman Minta Spears, should be terrific. Both are smart, but use their talents differently. Battle is a great ball-handler who can blaze past defenders on a fast break. Spears showed off her shooting ability with three-point display against Angelo State.

Another guard to watch out for is Marina Lizarazu. She comes to Tech from Spain where she played for the U18 national team. Spain won the gold at the 2013 Euro championships. Lizarazu is a pesky player who will create havoc for opposing teams in the backcourt. There are some kinks for Lizarazu to work out. She can get out of control at times, but her hustle is non-stop.

Other guards who will see some playing time include Jasmine Caston, Audrisa Harrison and Diamond Lockhart. All three are freshman and should see substantial time on the court.

Tech will have some size at the four and five spots this season. The Schneider girls, both 6-foot-5, are much improved. 6-foot-3 senior forward Shauntal Nobles will be a key player defensively. If Nobles can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, she will be a menace to opposing shooters.

Tech will go through some growing pains this season. There are three seniors on the team and one of them is Baker. The Lady Raiders lost key contributions in Chyna Brown, Christine Hyde, Casey Morris and Monique Smalls. Other teams in the Big 12 lost key contributors as well, but no team is as new as the Lady Raiders.

The uncertainty of Tech's roster may have driven the coaches to pick the Lady Raiders dead last in the Big 12 preseason Poll. There are other teams in the same boat as Tech. Baylor lost four starters including WNBA first overall draft pick Brittney Griner, who averaged 23.8 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. Iowa State lost Chelea Poppens who almost averaged a double-double per game. The only team who did not lose a starter was Texas.

The Lady Raiders have plenty of talent to go around. Texas Tech is highly unlikely to make it past the Big 12 conference tournament, but the growing pains now may turn into championships two to three years down the road.

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