Lady Toppers looking to keep dynasty intact, need role players to play bigger parts

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If the dynasty that Michelle Clark-Heard has built is to prolong itself for another season, those who have helped build the foundation must hope others grow into their expanded roles as those who have come before them have done.

Ivy Brown and Tashia Brown will be the ones leading Western Kentucky in the pursuit of a second straight conference championship in 2017-18. Who steps forward to join those veterans in a star role, whether that’s a singular entity or rotating player on a nightly basis, remains to be seen.

“I think that’s the good thing about it, you never know who’s gonna step up,” Tashia Brown said. “We got a lot of different people like (Whitney Creech), have got a freshman (Sherry Porter), she’s doing very good, very aggressive. (Sidnee Bopp), she can shoot the ball.

“We got a lot of different people and I think that’s what’s gonna be good for us is you never know who’s gonna step up that night. That’ll be great.”

Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown, both seniors, are preseason all-conference selections as WKU begins its fourth season as a Conference USA member. The previous three years have included 47 regular-season league wins, two conference championships and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.

For that trend to continue, redshirt-sophomore forward Dee Givens, Bopp (a junior guard), Creech (a sophomore guard), junior guard Kayla Smith and freshman forward Reneem Elgedawy will be counted on in larger roles.

“I love this group. I love this team. But we are young,” said Heard, who is now 130-39 at WKU. “Come in some days and some days we look better than others. But I think right now that’s expected, especially for a team that has a lot of new faces on it. It’s been good, it’s been a great progression.”

Bopp busted onto the scene in a big way during the 2017 postseason with 12 3-pointers in three Conference USA tournament games. The sharpshooter finished her sophomore year with a 44.2 percent mark from long range.

Givens only played in eight games before a season-ending injury resulted in a medical redshirt last year. Creech, the state of Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer, played in 31 games as a true freshman.

Smith has appeared in 64 contests for WKU over two years and has averaged nearly five points per game. Elgedawy is a true freshman from Egypt who will provide some relief for Brown in the post.

“We have a lot of potential and I think that we’re getting better every single day,” Ivy Brown said. “It’s always exciting to see how the freshmen and the newcomers have improved every single day. I’m really excited about it.”

Western, coming off a 27-7 season and loss to Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, faces a daunting challenge in the first two weeks. It opens the season at 2:30 p.m. Friday against Missouri (22-11 last year) in Iowa City, Iowa. The Lady Toppers will then get Iowa (20-14) or Quinnipiac (29-7) on Saturday.

On Tuesday, WKU hosts Notre Dame (33-4) and then plays at Indiana (23-11) on Nov. 17.

The results of those games could help strengthen the resume of Heard’s team for a possible at-large bid, but that’s something she can’t worry about now. The goal for her and her team in her sixth season remains the same.

“Of course everybody, always, wants to win championships and that’s the way – every day when we go in that’s what we talk about,” Heard said. “And you don’t have to necessarily always talk about it. I think our culture has been set. And I think every single day we work hard for that culture to stay that way.

“What’s successful for us is to be in that position to be in that championship game, to have a chance to win the conference championship. That’s why we put the schedule together the way we did, to go on the road and play the people we play so we can be ready for conference.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop