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  • The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association distributed ballots and quick facts Tuesday for men’s and women’s preseason basketball media polls.

    With the first day of practice coming Oct. 15 and the MIAA polls due Oct. 17, let’s take an early look at both Pittsburg State teams.

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  • The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association distributed ballots and quick facts Tuesday for men’s and women’s preseason basketball media polls.
    With the first day of practice coming Oct. 15 and the MIAA polls due Oct. 17, let’s take an early look at both Pittsburg State teams.
    The Gorillas made a lot of history last year — school-record 27 wins, first NCAA Tournament victory, first Sweet 16 appearance and first Elite Eight appearance high on the list of accomplishments.
    Pitt State returns three starters — senior guard Drew Roberts, junior guard Alexa Bordewick and sophomore forward Lizzy Jeronimus — and contributors Lauren Brown, Hailey Roderique, Morgan Westhoff, Brigit Hesser, Sara Molz, Lisa Elmer and Kristina Willis, as well as two players in the program last year in Y’Cedria Devers and Cathy Brugman.
    “We have 12 players on our roster currently that actually played last year or were in the program,” Pitt State head coach Lane Lord said. “Y’Cedria Devers was injured last year, she’s a very talented guard and then Cathy Brugman we redshirted, which was a great move for her because she’s going to be a great player for us. The other 10 played in some games and were at the Elite Eight, so that’s a good nucleus for our team.”
    Jeronimus, Bordewick and Roberts each started 32 games for the 27-6 Gorillas — whose loss in the Elite Eight came to the eventual national champion, Shaw.
    “It all starts, of course, with Lizzy Jeronimus, Drew Roberts and Alexa Bordewick,” Lord said. “That’s kind of our core three that played significant minutes a year ago and that’s a good place to start.”
    Jeronimus, MIAA Freshman of the Year last season, led Pitt State with 15.8 points per game and 95 assists over 33 games, plus averages of 6.8 rebounds and nearly 1.0 steals per game.
    Roberts and Bordewick enter their third year playing together in the Pitt State backcourt, a definite advantage.
    “With their ability to handle the ball and then also shoot the 3, we’re going to get a lot of shots for those guys,” Lord said. “We did last year too but they’re a year older, a year more mature. You can’t go to the Elite Eight without a good point guard and Alexa Bordewick was a great point guard for us. She got stronger as the year went on as a sophomore and we’re real excited about her leadership and what she brings to the team.”
    Lord had superlatives to say on seemingly every player.
    Lord on Roderique: “She’s a sophomore from Webb City and she really came on for us at the end of the year. Her mental toughness and her physical ability to guard different positions is really going to help us this year.”
    Page 2 of 4 - On Brugman: “We feel like she’s going to be an impact player for us.”
    On Brown: “A 6-foot-6 . . . instead of 10 minutes a game, she’ll be a 25 minutes a game player and I think she’s going to have a breakout year.”
    On freshman Kylie Gafford: “We’re really counting on (Kylie Gafford). She’s a 6-2 freshman, 6-3 with shoes, and she can play any spot on the floor. She played point guard in high school until she grew from 5-9 to 6-2, so she has those guard skills and yet we’ll play her down low and on the wing. I expect her to be an impact player for us this year.”
    On Willis: “Kristina Willis, this is her third year with us and she’s been a solid role player for us. What makes her so unique is that she’s in the Army full-time and just her mental toughness that she brings to practice everyday.”
    On Elmer: “Lisa Elmer is a redshirt junior but she is going to graduate this year and so we’re going to consider her a senior. She’s improved her game and she should see some significant time this year.”
    On Molz: “She battled some injuries last year after a redshirt season but has shown the ability to be a great leader and she’ll battle Alexa for that point guard spot. She can shoot the 3 and she’s been handling the ball well.”
    On Hesser: “She was a walk-on and now is earning scholarship money. She’s a hard worker that we feel like we can play at the 1, 2 or 3 positions.”
    On the returning players: “We have 12 returning players and 10 of the 12 were here all summer long forming that bond, lifting weights, running and working on their game. Lisa was not with us because she was doing an internship at Koch Industries (Wichita) and they’ve already offered her a job. Kristina was in Africa jumping out of helicopters doing the Army thing.”
    Pitt State plays an exhibition game against Nebraska (Oct. 29), hosts a scrimmage open to the public against Arkansas-Fort Smith (2 p.m., Nov. 4) and hosts the Pitt State Tip-Off Classic Nov. 9-10 with games against Southwest Minnesota State and Mary (N.D).
    The Gorillas return five players with starting experience from last year — senior forward JaVon McGee (26 starts), senior guard Courtney Ingram (17), senior guard Marky Nolen (14), sophomore guard Sam Pugh (12) and senior forward Rico Pierrevilus (4).
    “I think it’s a very strong core from the playing standpoint as much as leadership standpoint,” Pitt State head coach Kevin Muff said. “I think our group of seniors and returners combined is a good group to lay a foundation on for our juco transfers, as well as our new freshmen. Going into this year and before they got here on campus, we thought that but it’s been a pleasant surprise nonetheless once we got going to see this group emerge early as a close-knit group. Very supportive of one another and preseason workouts have gone as well as they’ve gone since I’ve been here with any group. That gives us a definite boost as a coaching staff in believing that this group can maybe exceed or at least meet our expectations this next year.”
    Page 3 of 4 - Pitt State finished last season 17-14, coming on strong during the MIAA Tournament with victories over higher seeds Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri advancing the Gorillas into the championship game. One more win over Washburn could have propelled the Gorillas into the NCAA Tournament.
    Ingram and McGee enter their third season playing for Coach Muff, the lone holdovers from his first season taking over for Gene Iba.
    Muff on Ingram, “Courtney has really stepped up. I think he’s more comfortable with everything and he’s kind of emerged. He’s a quiet kid, a quiet leader.”
    Muff on McGee, “Javon’s fighting. He’s had a broken wrist, he had surgery on it in August, so he just got the cast off today. He’s expected to be able to start sometime this month with both hands being used. He’s in good shape and he’s in basketball condition but to get him back with both hands will be nice to have him scrimmage and do live drillwork.”
    McGee led Pitt State with 13.0 points per game and ranked second with 6.7 rebounds per game last season. Nolan averaged 8.2 points and 4.0 rebounds, Ingram 7.5 points and 2.4 rebounds, Pierrevilus 7.0 points and 3.8 rebounds, and Pugh 3.7 points and 1.7 assists.
    Pitt State also returns Maurte Harrison, a redshirt freshman guard who played his prep ball at Lincoln Prep in Kansas City, Mo.
    New additions include freshman guard Jake Bullard (Vinita, Okla.), freshman guard Ray Blanco (Newark, N.J.), freshman guard Kaleb Porter (Tulsa, Okla.), freshman forward Denton Hays (Tulsa, Okla.), junior guard Ethan Cordray (Coffeyville-Coffeyville Community College), junior forward A.J. Adams (Jeffersonville, Ind.-Eastern Arizona College), junior guard-forward Terrell Eaddy (Bronx, N.Y.-Monroe College) and junior forward Alex Williams (Salina-Cloud County Community College).
    “The new group is a great group of kids,” Muff said. “I don’t want to sound too optimistic or too excited about what kind of potential this group has but this group, the four freshmen along with the transfers, has been very good at buying in, learning on the fly and picking up things as we go. They work extremely hard . . . as a coach, you want more than anything a group that’s enjoyable to coach and this group exemplifies that.”
    Two graduated players, guard Eric Ray and forward Andra Bailey, leave big sneakers to fill in the lineup.
    “Eric’s a big hole to fill,” Muff said. “His leadership, he was a great defender and he could score the ball. He brought a lot to the table and he’s going to be a tough guy to replace. Then, Andra Bailey on the boards and those are two areas that we have question marks coming into this season. We’ll see who fills those and who can replace them but I think we’ve got the personnel.”
    Page 4 of 4 - The Gorillas have an exhibition against Wichita State (Nov. 5) and begin their season at home against Baker (Nov. 13).
    Lord: We're just excited for the community to have an awesome venue to watch games this year. It's comfortable, it's clean, even just the new banners hanging up in there. It's going to be a great atmosphere to watch basketball games. Our kids are excited because we get to practice with just the basketball team. Track's not going to be running around while we're practicing and softball and baseball's not going to be hitting upstairs. We've got a true facility for basketball and volleyball. With 14 goals and the space that we have, it's just a dream come true not only for the coaches, but the players.
    Muff: There’s an added excitement having the arena. The Whetzel family (Alan and Roberta) and the contribution they made to getting that done and the commitment Pitt State’s made to enhancing our facilities has just been a blessing, I don’t know how else to put it. We’re able to get into our gym during the day any time now and our kids are able to come in and get shots up any time. We were very fortunate to have the Rec Center before but you still had to schedule everything and kind of pick and choose your times. Now, it’s available to our guys most any time they want to use it. That adds freedom to work around class schedules and to work around other events.
    Lord: If you look at Central Oklahoma, they’ve been in the NCAA Tournament on the women’s side five of the last six years. Northeastern State’s been six years straight. Lindenwood is new to Div. II but they have some of the nicest facilities in the conference, just unbelievable facilities which attract recruits. Nebraska-Kearney, I’m not familiar with their program very much but I know they’ve been solid in the RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference). The MIAA, obviously we’re biased but I think it’s true, is the best conference in the country in every sport and it’s just got a little bit tougher.
    Muff: It’s going to add to the excitement. Last year, we played both Northeastern and Central Oklahoma. I’ve not seen Lindenwood and I’ve not seen Kearney since I’ve been here. The expansion of the conference, any time you’re growing and expanding your team base, it’s a positive sign for your conference. Even though we’ll be losing Truman after this year, we’ll still be solid with our 14 teams. All four of those schools just made us that much stronger and there’s not a weak one in the group.

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