Nicea Eliely dribbles against Michigan State

Nicea Eliely (5) dribbles the ball during the game against Michigan State at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Last season, the Nebraska women’s basketball team didn’t live up to expectations after they just missed the NCAA Tournament two years ago. The Huskers went 14-16 overall and 9-9 in Big Ten play, a far cry from two years ago.

However, a couple factors are worth noting.

First, the team was incredibly young. This season, the Huskers will be returning all players from last season except forward Maddie Simon who graduated.

Secondly, last season the Huskers lost 10 games by two possessions or less. 

“We felt like we were competitive in a lot of games but just couldn’t get over the hump,” head coach Amy Williams said.

This season will be all about digging deep to “get over the hump” and coming out with wins in those close games.

Senior guard Nicea Eliely pointed out that being part of so many close games provided a learning experience. 

“We’re a lot better than we think we are,” Eliely said. “All those close games, we can compete with pretty much any team and every team that we’ve played.”

Experience is one of the biggest things the Huskers have going for them this season. The team is returning its top seven scorers and all five players who averaged over 20 minutes per game.

“There’s no tradeoff for experience,” Williams said. “It’s just so valuable and you can’t really substitute anything in place of it.”

Nebraska will be led this year by senior guard Hannah Whitish, who has had an impressive career as a Husker thus far. Whitish ranks third at Nebraska in career 3-pointers with 195, and ranks ninth in career assists at 363. Whitish is close to two different mile-markers, only needing 34 points to reach 1,000 career points and 37 more assists to reach 400 career assists. Last season, she averaged a team-high 10.1 points per game last season, along with 4.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game.

Eliely will be another key player for Nebraska this season. She’s known as one of the best defenders in the Big Ten and her goal is to make the Big Ten all-defensive team this season.

Eliely had a team-high 54 steals last season, averaging 1.8 steals per game. She was also one of two players along with junior Kate Cain to start all 30 games last season. 

Cain, junior Taylor Kissinger and sophomore Sam Haiby are the other three returning players with over 20 minutes of playing time last season.

Blocks are Cain’s speciality, as she sits at number four on the Husker charts for career blocks with 179 and only needs 60 more to take the first spot. She currently holds the Nebraska sophomore record for blocks with 79 blocks last season. She was also ranked second in the Big Ten and 13th nationally, averaging 2.6 blocks per game.

Kissinger brings long-range shooting accuracy to the team, as the junior ranked fourth nationally and led the Big Ten with a 45.6% 3-point percentage last year. She also tied the Nebraska 3-point field goal percentage record.

Haiby was right behind Whitish last season averaging 10 points per game, 3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

Seniors Grace Mitchell and Kristian Hudson and sophomores Kayla Mershon, Ashtyn Veerbeek and Leigha Brown round out the returning players.

The Huskers bring in three newcomers to the team this season as well.

Freshman Makenzie Helms was the first commitment to the recruiting class. She was the 2019 Connecticut High School Player of the Year and was the No. 27 point guard in the nation. Helms didn’t play in Nebraska’s summer tour in Europe because of an offseason surgery.

Freshman Isabelle Bourne brings international experience to the team. She spent the summer playing for the U19 Australian National Team earning a silver medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup. 

Freshman Trinity Brady was the final recruit of this class. Brady is very coachable and has a high basketball IQ that will help the team, according to Williams.

“All three of these young ladies, just very coachable and you rarely have to tell any of them twice, which is unique and a pretty remarkable trait for a freshman class,” Williams said. “I think that’s helping us advance pretty quickly this year.”

The Huskers will be playing an exhibition game Saturday, Nov. 2 against Rogers State. Their first regular season game is Wednesday, Nov. 6 against Alabama A&M. 

Nebraska will open up Big Ten play against defending conference champion Iowa on Dec. 28.