By: Tim Wilmes
The Xavier women’s basketball team will face many new challenges this season.
The Musketeers will dip their toes into the new Big East current of competition and adjust to a last-minute change of head coach.
One of the biggest challenges for Xavier, however, will be the youth-filled roster of this year’s team.
As the roster currently stands, XU has eight freshmen, three sophomores and two seniors.
The Musketeers will need to lean on their two seniors — guards Ashley Wanninger and Shatyra Hawkes — if they are to overcome the major challenges that have been placed before them.
Throughout the preseason, the young players on the team have looked to the two seniors for leadership and support.
Wanninger and Hawkes have made it their priority to follow a stern yet loving leadership model, and it seems their collective leadership style has positively affected the young Musketeer players.
“It’s funny — they call us ‘Mom’ and ‘Auntie.’ We have fun with it, but at the same time, the younger players listen to us and respect us,” Wanninger said.
There is certainly a feeling of a strong familial bond among the members of the XU squad, and this cohesiveness could be what keeps the team fighting through difficult times.
Ultimately, the link between Wanninger and Hawkes will keep the team afloat. In the preseason, the two senior leaders have used their own strong relationship to build a strong foundation within the team.
“We definitely need to have a good relationship to set the tone for the rest of the team. There’s only so much that Coach Neal can tell us on the court, but off the court we have to be good leaders and make sure we all stay on top of everything,” Hawkes said.
If the younger players are indeed doing their best to mimic Hawkes and Wanninger, it is no wonder that the team has a familial bond.
“When we first met, we just fed off each other. It’s like a sisterhood between us. We’ve been with each other the past three years — we’ve been through thick and thin,” Wanninger said.
The two seniors’ closeness, in fact, has been built up through much adversity over their three years together, and this has helped each of them adapt and grow as players.
Earlier this month, Wanninger and Hawkes found out they were going to have their third head coach in four years, but they refused to let the change slow them down. On the contrary, the leaders are finding another opportunity to learn through the situation.
“Basically, we’ve had an assistant coach move up to the head coaching position every time, so each time we’ve learned a different perspective, but there’s still a level of familiarity there,” Hawkes said.
“I think (the transition from coach to coach) has gotten easier every time. And through the transition we’ve learned how to handle adversity,” Wanninger added.
By now, Hawkes and Wanninger know what it means to deal with adversity and what needs to be done to push through difficult times.
Their leadership will spread throughout the rest of the team and the effects of their experience could be most seen in Big East games late in the year.
In the meantime, the two seniors will be showing their younger teammates what it means to play with an edge.
“Being picked ninth is kind of okay for us. We’re under the radar. Teams could get comfortable playing us, and we can surprise them,” Wanninger said.
“We’re not the only new team in the Big East,” Hawkes added. “The preseason predictions have us ranked ninth, but they haven’t seen us play yet. We’re a brand new team – they don’t know what to expect.”