The Butler women's basketball team has its most experience returning under head coach Mike Helmer, who is starting his ninth season leading the Grizzlies.
The experience is a plus, especially because the team has had to travel 15 miles to Andover each day to practice. Heavy summer rains flooded the Butler gymnasium twice. Renovation efforts on the basketball floor are ongoing, and have forced Butler to play its first three home games at area high schools – the opener will be at Augusta High on Nov. 1 and games on Nov. 4 and Nov. 8 will be at Circle High School in Towanda.
"Thankfully, this happened this year and not last year," Helmer said. "The kids know the system and they understand the expectations. It's been a fairly smooth transition this year."
Butler returns five players who started last year in Kyeria Hannah, Nakylia Carter, Raven Prince, Alecia Gulledge and Imari Bell. Butler also has a pair of transfers from NCAA programs on the roster this year in Dakota Vann and Kendriana Washington.
Kyeria Hannah was an All-Jayhawk Conference selection as a freshman, averaging 9.3 points and six rebounds per game. She played this summer in the NJCAA All-Star game in Florida over the summer, making her one of the top 40 freshman players in the country.
"She will be a double-double threat every night down low, but she can also step out and shoot the perimeter shot," Helmer said.
Raven Prince was a part-time starter a year ago, averaging 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, but the power forward has made great strides over the summer.
"We expect big things from Raven," Helmer said. "She is greatly improved – maybe the most improved player we've ever had from freshman to sophomore seasons."
Nakylia Carter returns as the team's point guard. She started all 32 games a year ago and is the first starting point guard to return at that position since Paige Franklin in 2009-10. Carter averaged 9.3 points and 3.1 assists per game last year.
"Her understanding of what I want on the floor has been a great advantage for us; knowing how to get people in the right places and following the expectations of the program," Helmer said. "She's done a good job."
Alecia Gulledge and Imari Bell both played significant minutes a year ago. Gulledge started 13 games, averaging 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds. Bell, working primarily in the post, averaged 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds, starting four games.
"We are looking forward to Alecia fine tuning her game and we are looking to her to make big strides," Helmer said. "Bell is our enforcer; our vocal leader. When she's happy, we play better."
Morgan Littlewood joins the active roster this year after redshirting last season. At 6-foot-5, she is the tallest player in Helmer's tenure. Coaches say her ability to challenge opponent shots is her biggest asset, adding that she runs the floor well for a player of her height.
Joining the team this year from Loyola University in Chicago is Dakota Vann. She averaged 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds a game for the Ramblers, who were 10-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
"We have very high expectations of Dakota," Helmer said. "She can play any of three different positions and will be even better once she gets adjusted to our system."
Kendriana Washington is a transfer from Midwestern State. She averaged 6.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Mustangs.
"She can score and is great in the open floor," Helmer said. "She needs to continue to get better on defense."
"She is a tough-minded kid," Helmer said. "She plays hard, is a good floor leader and can knock down open shots."
Butler will play NAIA JV squads in its first three games before opening conference play at Garden City on Nov. 12. The early start to conference play is due to playing 26 Jayhawk Conference games this season. In the past, conference games weren't played until the second semester, starting in January.
"I like the fact that we know we will play Wednesday and Saturday every week and not have to play five games in seven days like we had to at times in the past," Helmer said. "Our league is the toughest from top-to-bottom of any in the country. We have to be ready to go every night."