"It's been really exciting," summarized McM head coach Veronica Snow regarding her team's pre-season. "We have a group of players who's skill level - top to bottom - is good. They listen. They work hard. We set goals in practice and they've exceeded those (goals).
"It's very promising. We're excited."
Snow, who is beginning her sixth season (99-39) at the helm of the McMurry program, welcomes back a total of seven letterwinners from its 2011-12 roster, which went 19-8 and reached the American Southwest Conference semi-finals. Of that group, four are returning starters.
That, coupled with some talented athletes (a by-product of the step up a division), has brought an air of enthusiasm and expectation to the McM camp for 2012-13.
"One of the differences (between Division III and Division II) was the early season; being able to have them in the gym for a couple hours a week," continued Snow. "We were really able to expand our strength and conditioning program. I think you'll see a big difference.
"The other is we've got some excellent athletes. People that know us and have known our teams in the past say 'All your girls grew taller'."
In all, McMurry has nine roster players listed as 5-10 or better, with six of those standing 6-0 or more.
Snow is also blessed with a core group of three seniors, around which she can mold her 2012-13 squad. Point guard Rikeita Thomas, forward M.J. Vickers and post Jamie Wilson make up the trio.
Thomas is a fourth-year player for Snow, who has taken charge of running the War Hawks' floor. Thomas started all 27 games, averaging 10.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Vickers will miss the team's first few games, until she is done as a member of McM's volleyball team in the fall season. Last year, Vickers averaged 7.2 p.p.g. and 6.7 r.p.g. as she established herself as an inside force. This will be Vickers' third year with the hoops team.
Wilson's first season with the War Hawks was 2011-12, after transferring in from Western Texas College. Wilson appeared in all 27 games off the McM bench. She averaged better than 17 minutes per game with a scoring clip of 6.6 p.p.g. and pulling down 3.6 r.p.g.
"To have juniors and seniors who lead it makes all the difference. I've got good leadership on this team and we are going to count on them heavily. Each of the returners has something to offer."
One of those juniors of which Snow speaks is celebrated forward Keshia Collins. Collins continued the standard of excellence she has established during her sophomore campaign, averaging 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Her all-around skills were showcased by her also amassing 87 steals and 25 blocked shots, en route to a second-straight ASC Defensive Player of the Year" award.
Collins rolled up a total of 24 double-figure scoring efforts out of 27 games played. She also posted six double-doubles on the year.
"Keshia's one of those kids who loves the game and loves to be in the gym, and that's served her well," Snow said. "I'm glad that we were able to get her (to McMurry) as a freshman knowing she had the potential to be really good. She has risen to that because of her hard work in the gym and is one of the best defenders you will see."
With Collins and Wilson, Snow believes the frontcourt is a strong point, especially defensively.
"We've got a lot of quickness and some height," Snow explained. "Ashton Jones comes to us as a transfer from Sam Houston State. She has a lot of jumping ability and can score, and runs the court real well. Ana Dominguez (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak H.S.) has been blocking everybody's shots in practice and it's going to be exciting to watch her, as well. Taylor Russell is a newcomer who comes to us from the state semifinalist team (Liberty Hill) who can provide us with that 'intangible' she has, which is an attitude of a winner. With Jamie (Wilson) and Keshia (Collins) in there, as well as returning sophomore Bridget Dorn and newcomer Shelby Dixon (Austin, Texas/Bowie H.S.), we have a pretty solid front court."
Dominguez posted a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds off of the McM bench in the team's exhibition game loss at NCAA Division I foe UT-San Antonio last Saturday.
In the backcourt, Thomas heads the corps as the War Hawks' elder statesman. Joining her are returning players, junior Tory Salazar and sophomore Katlyn Tarbet. Junior transfer Jaryn Koenig (Weatherford College), as well as freshmen Paige Galindo (Clyde, Texas/Clyde H.S.), Angela Snow and Sierra Maykus (Southlake, Texas/Carroll H.S.), are also on Snow's radar screen to contribute to the War Hawks' offensive punch.
Freshman guard Claire Bruffey (Lubbock, Texas) - who was home-schooled and a three-time All-American at the National Home-School Championship tournament, has also been impressive to Snow in the early going. Bruffey has shown she is a legitimate scoring threat in the team's pre-season and will be counted on heavily, as well.
Snow's team will be "road warriors" to open the year, playing 12 of its first 13 games away from Kimbrell Arena. The War Hawks' only home game - prior to January 2013 - is not until a December 8 date versus Wayland Baptist. McMurry will also participate in the Midwestern Classic and West Texas A&M Tournament, as well as having home-and-home games with the six other Heartland Conference member schools.
McMurry officially take the wraps off of its team in the 2012-13 lid-lifter at Midwestern State University on Friday. It is also the opener for MSU, which lost, 77-62, to Texas Tech in an exhibition game last Sunday. The Mustangs are coming off of a 19-8 year in 2011-12, earning the No. 3 seed in the Lone Star Conference tournament.