The Western Kentucky University Lady Toppers continue to build off of their success from last season.
The basketball program is back in the spotlight after their late season run helped with their re-emergence onto the national scene.
The upcoming season begins this Friday night with a home game against Central Arkansas in the WNIT, a new era has begun for Lady Topper Basketball with the move to Conference USA along with the storied history of the program is "To Be Continued...", which is this year's team motto.
"We're back at it and excited to be here. I'm really excited about this group and about us going into the new season," said Lady Toppers' head coach Michelle Clark-Heard. "It's really refreshing to have some veterans with Alexis (Govan), Chastity (Gooch), and Ileana (Johnson) leading the way. Of course, not to leave off Micah (Jones) and Kendall (Noble) and the rest of that group but I'm excited about our future and the young kids that are stepping up. The future is bright, I think."
The Lady Toppers will be relying on former Franklin-Simpson Lady Cat and senior Lady Topper Chastity Gooch. The accolades that Gooch received last season are remarkable. She was named WBCA Coaches All-American Honorable Mention Selection, Most Valuable Player of 2014 Sun Belt Conference Championships after leading the Lady Toppers to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship. Named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year by CollegeSportsMadness.com and First Team All-Conference Selection by CollegeSportsMadness.com.
Gooch was also named National Mid-Major Player of the Week and Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week by CollegeSportsMadness.com following a record breaking week in Louisiana. She had a career night against Louisiana-Monroe on Jan. 22, 2014 when they erased a 13-point second half deficit to win. She had a new career high of 31 points and pulled down seven rebounds reaching 1,000 career points and 700 career rebounds in the game. Three days later, she had a 22-point, 11-rebound and four-block game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Gooch was
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named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week on Jan. 6th, 2014, after beginning conference play with a 26 point and 30 point games against South Alabama and Troy. She became the first player in school history to score at least 25 points in the first two conference games of the season. On Nov. 24th, 2013, and again on Nov.19th, 2013, she was selected CollegeSportsMadness.com's Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week. She scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 86-63 win over Murray State to earn that recognition.
This season, Gooch was named Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year, preseason All-Conference First Team Selection by the conference coaches and preseason All-Conference First Team Selection by CollegeSportsMadness.com.
"She's been phenomenal for us the past two years. I think the biggest thing with Chastity is she wants to continue to elevate her game and do whatever it takes for us to be successful," said Coach Clark-Heard. "I think she has been working on getting in the best shape she has been in since she has been here and being a leader. She has become more of a vocal leader on the floor, which is great for us. I'm really excited about that because she has taken ownership of that."
Not only has her talent has been noticed by her coaches, teammates and other teams, but women's college basketball analysts in the national media has noticed as well.
"Chastity Gooch has given me every reason to believe that she is one of the best players in the nation." said ESPN's LaChina Robinson.
"Western Kentucky has Chastity Gooch, one of my favorite players," said ESPN's Rebecca Lobo. "Six-one, can hit the three-ball, this kid can really play."
Western Kentucky Lady Toppers received votes in the preseason Associated Press Women's College Basketball poll. The Lady Toppers received four votes in the preseason rankings. The last time they were ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll was during the final rankings of the 1997-1998 season. The Lady Toppers have finished the season ranked in the AP Top 25 poll nine times, including two top ten finishes. Their best finish came during the 1985-1986 season when the Lady Toppers finished the season ranked fifth after a trip to the Final Four.
"I think the expectations are really, really high at the end of the day," said Coach Clark-Heard. "When I sat here a couple of years ago that's what we talked about, where we want our program to be. We're excited about it. If you all know me and I think you all know my team now, we've never shied away from competition or competing and that's the way we're going to be. I can't look into the crystal ball and tell you what our record will be or how many wins we'll get but I can tell you one thing, and I can promise you, we're going to play hard, we're going to compete and we're going to have a chance to be in the ball game in the last five minutes. When we do that we'll have the opportunity to get the girls into a position to have the opportunity to win. At the end of the day, I think that's what it's all about."
Birmingham and the University of Alabama-Birmingham will serve as host of the 2015 Conference USA Men's & Women's Basketball Championship, March 11th-14th. The men's tournament will be held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex and the same venue will also host the women's tournament semifinals and title game, while the first round and quarterfinals will be played at Bartow Arena on the campus of UAB.
1220 WFKN Franklin will once again broadcast the majority of Lady Topper basketball games throughtout the regular season and postseason.