2023-24 Season Preview with Head Coach Jason Cooper
The Queens have graduated some key talent and leadership over the past couple of years, but still have some veterans returning plus a promising sophomore in Taylor Houston.
COOPER: Having Kaitlyn Edgemon back is a huge plus! She is such a great competitor and team leader. I look for her to put in an All-American caliber year. We will all have to get used to calling her Jerden though! Taylor will be huge for us this year. She is moving from strictly a role player into a key “member of the action” spot. I believe she will be up for the challenge.
I have also seen some extremely hard work put in by returnees, Emily Sigala, Marchelle Bowden, Ellie Bruffey, and Megan Nestor. There was a different level of intensity last spring in our workouts and that spilled over into the summer for these girls. I’ve learned in my 25 years of coaching; you can never underestimate the improvement of your players over the summer. Especially those whom you know have put in the hours.
How do you see this year’s team, personal-wise and style of play?
COOPER: We have a solid group of returning players who gained a wealth of experience late last season. I believe that their role in our highly successful final six weeks of the season will propel them to a great start to this season.
We have added a few high-quality freshmen as well as two JUCO transfers that I believe will be huge for us. One thing that is for sure, all of our returners and new additions participated on teams last year that were very successful and competed at their highest levels.
The Queens will face stellar competition at the Thanksgiving tourney in California. Past that, how do you gauge the Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC) this season?
COOPER: The SAC is always tough. We have several very strong opponents on our preseason schedule. Texas A&M – Texarkana was the highest ranked team in our ARC last season, and we open the Queens Classic with them. Of course, the California trip will put us up against two of the top teams (Vanguard University and The Master’s University) in the country year in and year out. My hope in scheduling was to prepare us for a long and tough SAC season that consists of 22 of our allowable 28 games.
Any particular keys for this year’s team in its quest to advance to the NAIA National Tournament?
COOPER: I feel like one of our biggest weaknesses last season was our athleticism on the perimeter. I believe we have fixed that issue through the recruiting process. Another issue that needed to be addressed was the point guard spot. Last season nine different Queens played that position at some point. We spent a ton of effort in recruiting and development at that position this past spring and summer. We need someone to step up and take the reins.
Speaking of the national tournament, what have been some takeaways from the past couple of years that you feel have been helpful in preparing for this season?
COOPER: We saw a pretty high level of success two seasons ago getting to the round of 16. When we arrived there, I believe we were, in a way, just excited to have made it to Sioux City. Last season we expended so much of our emotional and physical energy during our last stretch of the season where we defeated four ranked teams in about 10 days, I think our tank ran dry in the Tourney.
As we moved forward from there, we put our focus on player development in the spring and recruitment of championship level players to add to the mix. I always repeat the definition of insanity to myself and my team. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. With that being said, we changed our strength and conditioning program, upped our expectations of players and coaches, and recruited winners and fighters. I believe you will see this when you watch us play. We are about taking care of business.
Is there a comparison to be made between the money (NIL) and movement (transfer portal) we read about in NCAA D1 and how the NAIA operates?
COOPER: The transfer portal has rocked the recruiting world in so many ways. It seems like every day there is some new wrinkle that no one was expecting. Some NAIA schools are starting to take advantage of the NIL movement. It is an extremely difficult battle that we face in recruiting. We have lost several D1 transfer recruits due to the lack of NIL money our program has. When I say lack, I mean absence. We do not have any NIL money to offer currently to our potential athletes. I am afraid it will all soon trickle down to the NAIA and cause major issues at a competitive level.
Are there any rule changes this coming year we need to be aware of?
COOPER: There are several rule changes on the docket that haven’t been 100% approved at all NAIA or SAC levels.
Hot ticket items are the use of the media timeout system at all games even if they are not necessarily needed for the media. This would allow everyone to become accustomed to the system before the National Tournament when we are forced to play by those rules. It basically means that at the five-minute mark in each quarter both teams get a free timeout unless someone uses one of their timeouts prior to that mark in the quarter. So, if your team is doing well, you can save your timeout knowing that there is a free one coming up soon.
Another item is the use of a review or replay system. During certain times of the game or in certain situations, a referee can stop the game and use a replay monitor to review what just happened. Again, this is a rule that is a must at the National Tournament level.
In my opinion, we should have had both of these items already. Uniformity is important but it also lifts up the standard that all schools that we compete against must meet, which, in turn, creates accountability and professionalism.
Finally,has the Flying Queens Museum been useful when recruits visit campus?
COOPER: I believe if you look at the logbook, you’ll see my name in it more than anyone! I love it! To answer your question, YES! It is the best thing, next to the Hutch, that I have to show them on campus. They all seem to really enjoy it.