Preseason MVP: Avionne Alexander became a full-time starter in her junior season, standing out as one of Texas State’s best perimeter defenders with the ability to switch across multiple positions.
The Ceiling: Texas State doesn’t take long to adjust to the new roster, the returning players pick up where they left off from last season, the younger players grow up quick and the team earns home court advantage in the early rounds of the Sun Belt Tournament, rebounding from a few rough-patch seasons.
The Floor: The junior class doesn’t mature and the Bobcats lean on young players for big minutes again. The team takes another “learning year,” posting its third-straight sub-.500 season and narrowly clawing its way to a spot in the conference bracket.
Game of the Year: UT-Arlington
Projected Start Five
G | 5-3 | Jr. | Dallas, Texas
G | 5-8 | Sr. | Sunnyvale, Texas
G | 5-8 | Jr. | Tyler, Texas
F | 6-1 | Jr. | San Antonio, Texas
F | 6-1 | R-So. | Arlington, Texas
Impact-First Year Player: Lauryn Thompson
Avionne Alexander had something to get off her chest.
Texas State had just reached the locker room after a 74-50 loss to UT-Arlington in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference tournament on March 10. The Bobcats overcame an 0-8 start to league play to earn their spot in the bracket, finishing the regular season on a 6-4 run. But the opportunity was wasted. The season was over and it had nothing to do with a pandemic.
Alexander, heading into her final year with Texas State, vocalized her expectations for everyone returning to the team for the 2020-21 season.
“The PG version would be that ‘This is never gonna happen again,’” Bobcats head coach Zenarae Antoine said. “‘And you better be willing to work and come back to work. Because I'm not going to accept anything less than that as we move forward.’”
“Avi,” as the team likes to call her, will be the only senior on the maroon and gold roster heading into 2020 after forward Jayla Johnson transferred to Eastern Kentucky in the offseason. Texas State will have six newcomers after guards Brooke and Bailey Holle graduated. But for the first time in three years, Antoine feels like she’ll be able to rely more on her upperclassmen and bring her younger players along slowly.
That luxury came at a high price. The team’s four returning juniors — forwards Ja’Kayla Bowie, Da’Nasia Hood and Jaeda Reed, and guard Kennedy Taylor — played a combined 4,304 minutes in their first two seasons. The Bobcats finished below .500 both years.
But the group showed promise during the 6-4 run to end the season. Taylor led the Sun Belt with 5.9 assists per game. Hood became Taylor’s top dancing partner in the pick-and-pop game and finished as a top-10 scorer in the conference averaging 13.6 points. The players had finally caught up to their steep learning curve.
A pair of transfer juniors will be added to the class in Gabby Standifer and Tianna Eaton. Standifer, a rangy forward from The Colony, graduated magna cum laude from Fresno State after just two years and will be immediately eligible. Eaton started in 24 games in two seasons at UC Riverside but the Walnut, California native is currently waiting on the NCAA to determine her eligibility status.
Antoine expects the underclassmen to still be involved, though. Forward Chelsea Johnson posted double-digit points in four games as a freshman. Guards Keslyn King and Jessica Paz Y Puente both saw spot minutes throughout last year. Newcomer Lauryn Thompson was originally recruited by Antoine as a senior at Mansfield Timberview High School but the post committed to VCU instead. She transferred to Texas State last season and sat the year out due to NCAA rules but is now available to play. The Bobcats’ three freshmen — guards Presley Bennett and Sierra Dickson, and forward Nicole Leff — all come from winning high schools that reached the playoffs last season.
Alexander expects a lot out of the Bobcats in the 2020-21 season. But for Texas State to take a step forward from the past two years, the rest of the players have to expect it out of themselves.
“I think (last season has) had a tremendous impact, for a lot of different reasons,” Antoine said. “But I would say probably the largest is they really, as a group, really started to feel good and things started to click there towards the end and ran out of time. I guess if you had to say, it's some unfinished business.”