By Kevin Lewis, Associate AD for Athletic Marketing & Media Relations
Nothing can ever bring back the amazing opportunity the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens had last season to win an NAIA national championship. At the same time, there’s seemingly nothing keeping the Flying Queens from putting themselves back in that same enviable position this coming season.
“Yeah, we can go do it again. We have all the pieces to do that,” Flying Queens coach Alesha Ellis said. “With our core group returning, they know what it takes to win championships.”
While Wayland no doubt will miss its three graduated seniors from a year ago, chief among them all-American and the program’s all-time assists leader Morgan Bennett, Ellis welcomes back two other all-Americans, a handful of other proven veterans, plus a host of promising new talent.
“That was one of the best teams I’ve ever had,” Ellis said of her 2019-20 squad that forged a 31-2 record, captured a Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season co-championship and SAC Tournament title, and notched 10 wins over ranked opponents or teams receiving votes, including three victories over the No. 1 team in the nation. The Queens, who averaged a second-in-the-NAIA 88 points per game, were riding a 28-game win streak and were the No. 2 overall seed in the national tournament when play was halted by COVID-19.
Ellis described last season’s roster as “top notch, on and off the court.
“Their team chemistry is what put them at the top. We had a lot of talent and they were unselfish players all the way around. Two of our best players (Kambrey Blakey and Kaylee Edgemon) came off the bench. We started our best defensive team then threw in our best offensive players. I felt like we were playing at our best at the end of the season.
“The girls have a lot to be proud of. We overcame personal and team battles, which I think they will carry a lot further in their lives than even a national championship,” Ellis said. “Although it ended on a bad note, I was really proud of them. It will haunt all of us for the rest of our lives not knowing what could have happened, but it is what it is.”
Ellis is pumped up about what will be her eighth season at the helm of the Flying Queens, making her the second-longest tenured coach in program history after only the 18 years of legendary Harley Redin, who died this past summer at age 100.
“Every year, every team is different, but we’re returning a good core back to the team,” said the coach who has won almost 78 percent of her games (176-51) at Wayland. “We lost some key pieces last year in our point-guard (Bennett) and a starting post (Kelea Pool). Size is something we’ll have to focus on this season. We’re not as big this year.”
But the Flying Queens are versatile, and they can shoot.
“We’ll be a little different than last year,” said Ellis, who will be assisted for the first time by her husband, Andy. “This team can really shoot the ball. We have more guards, and they’re big guards.
“This is the most versatile team I’ve had at Wayland. We’ll run everybody at different positions. It will be fun.”
Leading the Queens will be the aforementioned honorable mention all-Americans, Edgemon and Jenna Cooper. The 5-foot-11 Edgemon, a two-time honorable mention all-American from Littlefield, led the team in scoring last season averaging 13.6 points to go with 5.4 rebounds. Edgemon is the lone senior on the 15-player roster.
Wayland also returns its third-leading scorer and top rebounder in Cooper, a 6-foot junior from Claude. Cooper averaged 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds a year ago when she hit 51 3-pointers, second on the team to Bennett’s 77.
Also back is junior Payton Brown, who shared point-guard duties with Bennett and averaged 10.5 points along with a team-high 52 steals and 99 assists, second only to Bennett’s 172 helpers. “We look for Payton to be a leader this year.” Ellis said of the Lubbock Roosevelt product. “She’s doing a great job of that.”
Other veterans are redshirt junior Jolie Donaldson of Whiteright and four sophomores in Blakely Gerber of Nazareth, Jessie Medcalf of Franklin, Ashlyn Shelley of Idalou and 6-foot-2 Tayjanna Mcghee-Pleasant of Amarillo Palo Duro. They’re joined by six incoming freshmen: Sonia Sato of El Paso, Kaylee Rendon of Frenship, Kaitlyn Edgemon of Littlefield, Katheryn McClanahan of Austin, Taelor Sadler of Lubbock’s Southcrest Christian and Kylie Ellsworth of Georgetown. A seventh freshman, Avery Mitchell of Lubbock Christian High School, will redshirt.
Ellis is counting on some of those younger players to help out underneath.
“We brought in a lot of 5-11, 6-foot players who can play those positions, too, as freshmen,” Ellis said. “Our freshmen can’t play like freshmen if we’re going to win as much as we want to.>
Two of the newcomers are relatives of current of former Queens. Kaylee and Kaitlyn Edgemon are sisters while Sato’s sister, Nina, played from 2014-18 and holds the team record for most blocks in a game with 10.
“Sonia is not as tall as Nina, but she’s very, very strong and knows how to score. We need to develop her knowledge of the game, but she’s very versatile,” Ellis said.
The coach said Edgemon, who finished No. 1 in her graduating class at Littlefield after transferring from Lubbock Cooper, is “tearing it up right now. She is super versatile and can post up or play on the outside. She knows how to score, so she’s a lot like her sister in that way. She’s very strong with a quick first step. We’re really, really excited to have her.”
Ellis also had high praise for back-up point guards Shelley and Rendon, both back-up point-guards. The coach called Shelley “a smart player who sees the floor really well.”
As of mid-September, Wayland plans to play an abbreviated fall schedule, including five games against conference teams from Nov. 5-21 that won’t count in the conference standings, followed by a 14-game conference schedule beginning Jan. 9.
Ellis can hardly wait to get back at it.
“I’m really excited about this team,” she said.