Nebraska women's basketball will hit Husker fans with an exciting mix of old and new in 2013-14.
The oldie but goodie starts with senior Jordan Hooper. A two-time honorable-mention All-American and first-team All-Big Ten selection, Hooper has proven herself as one of the most prolific scorers, rebounders and three-point shooters in Husker history.
Hooper hopes to spend her fourth year in the Nebraska starting five chasing school records for points and rebounds, while shattering NU's three-point record.
Hooper enters to the 2013-14 campaign ranked 10th in the Nebraska record book with 1,685 points. She needs 720 points to catch NU's all-time leading scorer and 1993 Wade Trophy winner Karen Jennings atop that list with 2,405 points. Hooper has scored more than 600 points each of the last two seasons.
Hooper also heads into her senior season ranked fifth on the Nebraska career rebounding chart with 811. She needs 469 rebounds to catch NU all-time leader Janet Smith atop that list. Hooper has pulled down 300 or more rebounds in each of the last two seasons.
As a three-point shooter, Hooper has buried 215 threes in her first three seasons for the Huskers. She needs just 52 more to catch three-time first-team All-Big 12 guard Kiera Hardy atop the NU list with 267. Hooper has averaged more than 70 threes per season, including 81 for the Huskers a year ago.
During the summer, Hooper took her game to another level by competing on the USA Basketball World University Games Team that won a gold medal in Russia. Hooper started the gold-medal game and powered the USA to victory with nine points and nine rebounds in the win over Russia.
"Jordan is one of the best players the state of Nebraska has ever produced," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. "She is extremely athletic and versatile. She is more than just a good athlete, she has great basketball skill. She also has an excellent work ethic and is a strong student."
While fans will spend the season keeping track of Hooper in the Husker record books, Hooper hopes to be leading a group of four returning Nebraska starters and eight returning letterwinners back to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
Hooper headlines one of the most experienced front lines in college basketball this season. Not only has she started 98 consecutive games at forward, but she has started the last 67 of those games alongside juniors Emily Cady and Hailie Sample.
Cady, a 6-2 forward from Seward, Neb., is a two-time honorable-mention All-Big Ten choice. She has averaged 9.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game through her first two seasons in the Husker lineup.
"Emily Cady is a winner. She is an extremely athletic and versatile player," Yori said. "Emily has all-around skills and has shown both a great instinct for the game and overall basketball knowledge beyond her years."
Sample, a 6-1 forward from Flower Mound, Texas, is one of the best wing defenders in the Big Ten, and has continued to expand her offensive game.
"Hailie is a big guard who is very versatile and a smart basketball player at both ends," Yori said. "She is a tough, smart and aggressive defensive player who is a perfect fit for our defensive system. She can also score on the block and create opportunities for herself and teammates off the dribble."
The trio has combined for 232 career starts and have powered the Huskers to back-to-back NCAA tournaments.
With those three in the lineup, Nebraska has rolled to two of the best three seasons in school history, averaging 24.5 wins and advancing to the 2013 NCAA Sweet 16.
Nebraska's fourth returning starter comes in the form of 6-0 point guard Rachel Theriot. The sophomore from Middleburg Heights, Ohio, earned Big Ten All-Freshman honors a year ago after starting 28 of NU's 34 games. She averaged 6.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game despite playing through the pain of an injured foot the entire season.
Theriot supported honorable-mention All-America point guard Lindsey Moore in the backcourt in 2012-13. Moore, who was a first-round WNBA draft pick of the Minnesota Lynx, averaged 15.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game a year ago.
While Moore's production and leadership will be missed, Theriot could be counted on for more production of her own as a sophomore. Theriot underwent foot surgery soon after the end of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and has progressed well in the offseason.
A healthy Theriot could give Husker fans a healthy dose of the passing and play-making ability they only experienced a small taste of in 2012-13.
"We're hoping Rachel will be able to play healthy this season," Yori said. "We never really got to see her even close to full strength last year. She could barely run and she was still a member of the Big Ten All-Freshman team. That will say something about her talent, and what we think she can do."
In addition to Nebraska's nucleus of four returning starters, they also bring a solid and experienced group of players in supporting roles.
Juniors Brandi Jeffery and Tear'a Laudermill will contend for starting jobs alongside Theriot in the NU backcourt. Jeffery, a 5-7 guard from Vacherie, La., made six starts early in the 2012-13 campaign, before battling injury and adversity.
Jeffery after 3.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore. The 2011 Parade High School All-American and Louisiana Player of the Year has appeared in 63 contests for the Huskers in her first two seasons, and expects to be a significant contributor again.
Laudermill, a 5-9 guard from Riverside, Calif., was Nebraska's most improved player in 2012-13. The ultra-quick Laudermill was NU's top reserve both offensively and defensively as a sophomore, averaging 5.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game. Laudermill has appeared in 61 career games and could provide Nebraska with a menacing presence at the "hound" position in full-court defense, especially with the addition of the 10-second backcourt violation this season in women's college basketball.
Fourth-year junior Katie Simon adds more experience and depth to NU's already talented front line. The 6-2 forward from Roseville, Calif., averaged 2.0 points and 1.2 rebounds while making 29 appearances in 2012-13. Simon has played in 56 career games and has been a remarkably effective producer in her two seasons on the court at Nebraska. Simon owns 127 points and 69 rebounds in 382 minutes for per-40-minute averages of 13.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. She also has hit nearly 50 percent of her field goals and nearly 70 percent of her free throw attempts during her career.
Those three juniors are bolstered by the return of sophomore Sadie Murren. The 5-8 shooting guard from Colon, Neb., battled injury to play in 18 games as a true freshman. She averaged 1.5 points per game, but Husker fans only got a glimpse of her shooting abilities.
Murren has had an excellent offseason and is poised to make greater contributions for the Huskers in 2013-14.
While Nebraska's eight returning players from its 2013 NCAA Sweet 16 squad will provide Coach Connie Yori and Husker fans with a sense of some good old-fashioned reliability, a shiny new downtown arena and three talented newcomers will provide a glimpse to future of the program.
The Pinnacle Bank Arena has already changed the face of downtown Lincoln, even before the Huskers have played a game in the sparkling silver arena. The $179 million venue will seat more than 15,000 for basketball and will be the permanent home of both the Nebraska men's and women's basketball teams. The 470,400-square foot arena space includes 36 suites, 20 loge boxes and 832 club seats, while still providing courtside seats.
The new Railyard entertainment district is growing at a staggering rate within the old Haymarket, providing many new entertainment options. The arena itself will provide nationally acclaimed concerts and shows throughout the year, giving the city of Lincoln a whole new feel.
Hotels and parking areas have sprung up around the arena, giving Nebraska all the resources it needs to be a serious contender to host NCAA Tournament action right now and in the near future.
The arena and the success of the Huskers on the court also has ignited season ticket sales for Nebraska women's basketball. As of Sept. 15, sales of Husker season tickets were up nearly 50 percent, crossing 3,000 with six weeks left before first tip.
The exciting new arena will share its first year in Husker history with freshmen Allie Havers, Hannah Tvrdy and Esther Ramacieri.
Havers, a 6-5 center from Paw Paw, Mich., is one of the tallest players in Husker history. A talented multi-sport athlete who was a Michigan state player of the year finalist in basketball, volleyball and softball, Havers will try to work her way into NU's experienced front court. Ranked as the No. 78 player in the nation as a senior in high school, Havers averaged 19.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and was a two-time Kalamazoo Area Player of the Year.
"We like versatile and athletic players in our program and Allie Havers fits that mold perfectly," Yori said. "She can do multiple things for our basketball team with her ability to run the floor, score in the paint or face up away from the basket. She will be one of the more athletic players on our roster. Her upside is tremendous, and with our strength and conditioning program and the opportunity to focus on just one sport, we think she will thrive at Nebraska. Her future is very bright here."
While Havers could help the frontcourt, Hannah Tvrdy and Esther Ramacieri hope to bolster the backcourt. Tvrdy, a 5-9 guard from Nebraska high school power Seward, won three straight titles and more than 100 consecutive games during her prep career, playing for her father, Tom. Her mother, Shelly (Block), was a two-year starter at Nebraska in the mid-1980s, and the pair become the first mother-daughter combination in Husker basketball history.
Tvrdy was ranked as the No. 28 point guard in the nation coming out of high school and was a two-time Class B all-state selection for the Bluejays. As a senior, she averaged 15.6 points and better than four rebounds and four assists per game.
"Hannah is an unselfish guard with size. She can rebound and shoot and she has that 'Nebraska' blue-collar work ethic and toughness that we like," Yori said. "She has been well-coached and is accustomed to competing for and winning championships. She is former teammates with some of our current Huskers, and that will help ease her transition to the Division I level."
Ramacieri, a 5-7 guard out of Repentigny, Quebec, Canada, could earn time as a defensive specialist for the Huskers. Ramacieri likes to play in an open-court style and is a solid on-the-ball defender, which could translate to early playing time on NU's 11-player roster.
"On offense we like to play fast and Esther is an up-tempo type of guard," Yori said. "Esther is a good on-ball defender and excels at pushing the ball in transition, which makes her a great fit for our system. She is athletic, competitive, an excellent ball-handler, and a hard worker. She can score off the dribble or shoot the three. She will help provide immediate depth in our backcourt."
The old and new Huskers will join forces in their new building to take on a 20-game home schedule in 2013-14, that includes a pair of exhibition dates and 18 regular-season home games.
The women will play the first-ever basketball game inside the Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, Oct. 27, when the Huskers tangle with Pittsburg State Gorillas in the earliest exhibition game in the Big Ten this season.
Nebraska will play its second exhibition contest against Nebraska-Kearney one week later, before the Husker men take the court for the first time on Nov. 4.
The Husker women also play the first-ever regular-season game at the arena, when they battle UCLA on Friday, Nov. 8 at Noon. The Bruins, who advanced to the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, will join NU in what will likely be the most highly attended non-conference women's basketball game in school history.
Nebraska is planning a special "Invest 2 Be The Best" life skills event prior to tip-off at the arena. Thousands of middle school children in Lincoln and surrounding communities will be on hand to celebrate the official opening of the arena for basketball.
The largest non-conference crowd in school history came in then-No. 20 Nebraska's clash with No. 5 LSU at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Dec. 20, 2009, when 7,717 fans witnessed a 77-63 Husker win over the Tigers.
Nebraska is expecting upwards of 10,000 fans for its season opener with UCLA, while the Husker men will complete a day-night basketball doubleheader with 15,000 expected to be on hand for a battle with 2013 NCAA Sweet 16 participant Florida Gulf Coast.
"The excitement around basketball in the city of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska is probably at an all-time high right now, and we hope we can keep that growing," Yori said. "The really exciting part about it is that we haven’t even played a game yet in the arena."
The Huskers will follow opening day with a tussle against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday, Nov. 11, before hitting the road for the first time against 2014 WNIT runner-up Utah on Nov. 15.
Nebraska returns home for a four-game home stand from Nov. 24 to Nov. 30, capped by a clash with its third Pac-12 Conference foe of the early season - Washington State.
The Huskers hit the road again for a Big Ten/ACC Challenge battle against a North Carolina club that finished second in the ACC a year ago and won 29 games before advancing to the NCAA second round.
Following the tough test at Chapel Hill, NU returns home for a five-game stand at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
It will be Nebraska's longest home stretch since Yori's first season at NU in 2002-03, and includes games against four straight postseason squads starting with 2013 WBI competitor Utah State on Dec. 8. NCAA Tournament second-round qualifier Creighton comes to town on Dec. 14, before WBI semifinalist South Dakota visits Lincoln on Dec. 21, with former Husker Amy (Gusso) Williams at the controls of the Coyotes.
NU concludes the non-conference portion of its schedule with NCAA qualifier and 2013 Southland Conference champion Oral Roberts on Dec. 29.
Nebraska then opens its 16-game Big Ten Conference schedule at home against Northwestern on Jan. 2.
The Huskers will face Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue twice in conference play, while holding single games against Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State and Penn State.
"From start to finish, our home schedule is going to challenge us and hopefully provide us the experience necessary to prepare for the postseason," Yori said. "UCLA will test us right away and our team will be working hard to prepare for that first game. By the time we close our home regular-season schedule for Jordan Hooper’s Senior Night on Feb. 27, we will play 11 postseason tournament teams at home. That is a going to be a challenge."
Overall, Nebraska will play at least 18 games against 2013 postseason squads, including at least 12 games against NCAA Tournament teams. Eleven of those 12 games will come against teams that advanced to the NCAA second round.
The Big Ten sent six teams to the 2013 NCAA Tournament and all six squads produced first-round NCAA victories last season. The conference hopes to continue that string of success in 2014.