Women’s Basketball seeks an identity to win by

Jay Bridgeman (above) returns after off-season surgery to make an impact both on and off the court. Photo courtesy of University Communications.

Kenneth Pancake

Omaha needs to find their niche in the Summit League.

That was the message Head Coach Brittany Lange gave on media day, entering her sixth season as coach for the Omaha Women’s basketball team.

“We’ve got to carve out a tradition and an identity,” Lange said.

That kind of identity has a lot to do with a team’s playbook, but it also has to do with the players’ strengths. That was certainly a focus in the off-season.

“We looked at what we needed to build, and what we needed to add, and what we needed to improve on, and we’ve absolutely checked all those boxes,” Lange said.

In the off-season the team added seven new members, including several international players.

“We’ve recruited to the style we want to play this year,” Lange said.

What is that style? The team will be moving away from a four-guard perimeter game and will insert more traditional sets with new talent in the post. The new system will be implemented with new players such as Elena Pilakouta (two-time Cyprus player of the year and national team member), Sophie Johnston (Australia), Juliana Chagas (Brazil), Rayanna Carter and Andi Pierce, among others.

While she says coaches and programs may never feel completely settled in, Lange feels closer to her own niche.

“I think we’re going to play two traditional big’s at times,” Lange said. “I think we’re going to have a pretty balanced inside/outside game this year… we have some interchangeable guards… we have options.”

One of those options is Jay Bridgeman, a returning forward who dealt with a severe injury last season. Bridgemans’ injury along with Ellie Brecht’s career-ending injury, played a part in the team’s disappointing finish down the stretch last year.

“I was only allowed to practice three times per week… in games (last year) I was only allowed to play 20 minutes per game,” Bridgeman commented.

Bridgeman has Avascular Necrosis – an ailment that reduces blood circulation. This resulted in extra damage to Bridgeman’s body since she learned more details about the disease one year ago while heading into the 2017-18 season.

“(I) looked like I had the hip of an 80-year old woman,” Bridgeman said.

Her decision to return was due in part to encouragement from teammates.

“I love our new team, and… they have helped me, pushed me to try to get healthy,” Bridgeman said. “I’m thankful that I’m still allowed to even play.”

“She’s a leader on and off the court,” said sophomore team member Clarie Killian. “When we lost her on the court, it was kind of a mental toll, as well as a physical toll.”

Killian will go from a freshman to team leader after an off-season of high turnover. But none of that concerns Lange, or Killian.

“I just feel a lot more excitement from everyone,” Killian said.

“We have had a tremendous offseason… we have a really refreshed group,” said Lange. “This group has been nothing but a sponge.”

The team begins its season with an exhibition at 7 p.m. on Nov. 4 against Avila at Baxter Arena.