Griffons prepared to make jump in 2015

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Having the best player on the court in a game is not a guarantee of victory or anything like that, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

For head coach Rob Edmisson and the Missouri Western women’s basketball program, they will likely have that built-in advantage every time they take the court this season.

“It’s good to have expectations,” Edmisson said. “Expectations are a sign that your program is getting better.”

Senior LaQuinta Jefferson in getting preseason All-American consideration from many national media outlets following her performance last season, where she averaged over 20 points per game.

“She’s tremendously gifted offensively,” Edmisson said. “She’s a guard that can step out and shoot threes, and she can drive and post up.”

The 6-0 wing will be looked on to lead a Griffon team that has raised its expectations from just a year ago.

“More than anything, it’s her heart and passion for the game,” senior Sarafina Handy said. “I’ve seen a lot of skill players, but somebody with the competitiveness, heart and passion for the game, that make her stand above the rest.”

Jefferson is not the only player back for the Griffons that has experienced success in the MIAA. Missouri Western returns five players with starting experience from a year ago.

Leading the way in of starting experience is point guard Chelsea Dewey. Dewey is the only Griffon to start all 27 games last season and is a player Edmisson has learned to rely on.

“As gifted as (Jefferson) is it all starts and ends with your point guards,” Edmisson said. “So, having Dewey is huge for us, because I think she’s one of the better point guards in the league.”

The junior floor general racked up over 100 assists last season and scored 7.4 points per game. That average was the fourth highest on the team last year, but could rise significantly this season.

“She can also be a scorer,” Handy said. “I’ve told her many times that she’s got the looks and she can take them.”

Jefferson and Dewey’s running mate in the backcourt, Handy, also returns to the fold as Western’s shooting guard.

Handy was the second-leading scorer last year and will be counted to duplicate that again this season.

Handy averaged 13 points per game and shoot 42 percent from beyond the three-point arch. Her shooting prowess makes her a valuable weapon to compliment Jefferson and Dewey’s dribble-drive and passing ability.

“It makes it so much fun (playing with Jefferson and Handy),” Dewey said. “You can let the ball go and it has a 95 percent chance of going in.”

Adding to the Griffons’ outstanding array of passing threats is forward Miliakere Koyamainavure.

“One of the strengths of this team is we are a great passing team,” Edmisson said.

Koyamainavure lines up for the Griffons as their power forward, despite only standing 5-9. She is the Griffons most versatile option.

“(Koyamainavure) is such a great ball handler and driver, she’s really hard to guard for other people in the league,” Edmisson said.

She finished second on the team in assists last year, first in rebounding and third in scoring.

With the team playing a small-ball line-up, that puts even more pressure on Mhykeah Baez.

Baez will likely be the fifth starter this season after starting 14 games last season. The 6-1 post player is the perfect role player to fit with the explosive Griffon backcourt. She offers the athleticism to run the floor, while also having the size to be the anchor for the defense.

“She really allows us to run, she can run as fast as any of our guards,” Edmisson said.

With those five starters in place, the task for Edmisson this offseason was to build a bench capable of fitting with his core group.

He accomplished that with a variety of recruiting strategies.

“The new players, the good thing about them is there is no drop in the level of play,” Handy said.

Edmisson brought in two freshmen and three transfers.

One of the freshmen the team added is its second player from the Fijian Islands with Leba Korovou.

“Leba brings size and presence that we desperately need in the post,” Edmisson said.

The other freshman had a lot less distance to travel. Melia Richardson joins the team after playing her high school ball in Cameron, Missouri.

Richardson provides the team with even more of a speed element, but may be limited early as she recovers from an ACL injury she suffered her senior season in high school.

“She plays a style of play that is so aggressive,” Edmisson said. “If you just look at her physically, you can tell she’s put a lot of time in in the weightroom.”

Julia Torres-Alves is a transfer from Highland (Kan.) CC and gives the team some size in the paint at 6-3.

Dwanisha Tate represents the team’s primary wing backup and will provide even more athleticism off the bench.

“Tate gives use another offensive weapon,” Edmisson said.

Sefula Faavae rounds out the transfer class and, after transferring in from Arizona Western, should provide the team with even more backcourt depth.

The team has the talent to shoot high in 2015 and they aren’t afraid to display that confidence.

“Our main goal is to win the conference championship,” Handy said.