TROY — Troy’s women’s basketball team opens its season Tuesday at home against Fort Valley State (6 p.m.) with high expectations, a lot of experience returning and a goal to return to the NCAA Tournament.
There is plenty of motivation fueling head coach Chanda Rigby’s team. Rigby has taken Troy to the NCAAs in 2016 and 2017, but the Lady Trojans have fallen short the past two seasons.
“Our returning players have stepped up. We have seven seniors who are extremely talented,” said Rigby, who tips off her eighth season as Troy’s head coach. “What’s great is they have a chip on their shoulder because we didn’t meet our goal of what we wanted to do last year, which is get to the NCAA Tournament.
“That much maturity and experience — almost half your team is seniors — and that urgency of ‘we didn’t accomplish the ultimate last year and we only have this year to do that.’ So that’s a pretty good combination.”
Troy lost Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and top rebounder Sky’Lynn Holmes and will miss Shaterrika O’Neal’s leadership at guard. But the team’s three leading scorers — Amber Rivers (10.4 ppg), Kayla Robinson (10.3 ppg) and Japonica James (10.1 ppg) — are back. Rivers is a second team Preseason All-Sun Belt pick. James is on the third team.
Rigby is encouraged by what she’s seen in the preseason from this team.
“We did bite off some Power 5 teams to scrimmage and we did fantastic,” Rigby said. “Couldn’t be more pleased with how we’ve competed in the preseason. We do have things to work on.
“We need to hold off on being so aggressive on defense. We’re fouling way too much. Rebounds are not where we want them to be. We want to lead the nation in rebounds. That’s been a little bit down in the preseason.
“As far as competing at a high level, we definitely see a glimpse that this group is going to be able to do that.”
Troy’s 94-foot attacking style remains intact. In fact, the only one limping into the season is the head coach herself, who had knee surgery recently.
“For months it had been hurting and I kept putting it off and putting it off until the meniscus finally flipped in there and I couldn’t walk on it anymore,” Rigby said last week. “Dr. (Jeffery) Dugas saw me at a Troy football game and said get in here and get on this table and let me look at it.”
She knew what was coming.
“He said get in here next week and we’re going to do surgery,” the coach said. “I was like, OK. I couldn’t walk on it, so…”
She’s walking without a brace, or even that limp she carried around for a couple weeks after the procedure. The rest of the team is full-go. Going fast is in Troy’s DNA under Rigby.
“A lot of the players they brought in, they’ve played a fast-paced system already,” junior point guard Jasmine Robinson said. “They’ve been able to move the ball and score. Bringing them in has been a smooth adjustment for them.”
One of those newcomers is backup point guard Emely Rosario.
“It’s been real competitive,” Rosario said. “Everyone competes against each other, trying to get better.”
Troy went 22-9 last season, including a first-round home loss to UAB in the Women’s NIT. The Trojans started 16-3, 7-1 in Sun Belt play through January, but wore down in the final month of the season.
“Of course it’s unfinished business because we want to win,” Jasmine Robinson said. “Going into this year, we have high hopes, we’re ready and we’re confident.”