When the Milwaukee women’s basketball team takes the floor in November, it will be missing a couple of comforting, familiar faces. It will also feature some new faces, and a few young faces. Just don’t tell head coach Kyle Rechlicz that her Panthers are going to be a young team.
“A lot of people will say that we’re young, we’ve been getting that a lot. But the truth is I don’t think we’re young,” Rechlicz surmised on Wednesday. “We have our top four guards that are returning this season. We had two post players that kind of had to step up from our bench that will be moving into the starting rotation that are actually extremely experienced because they had to go against two very good post players, our senior post players, every single day in practice last year.”
Rechlicz, flanked by players from this year’s team, made her comments at Milwaukee’s 2023-24 Basketball Media Day. Reporters had the chance to ask questions and hear updates on this year’s Panther squad as their coach introduced the upcoming team.
Though the graduation of Megan Walstad and Emma Whitmershaus has denuded the Panther post of 20.1 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.4 blocks per game, the Panthers’ twelfth-year coach sees a solid returning cast. Without the veteran stalwarts inside, Rechlicz and her staff are leaning into the returning depth this team has on the outside.
“We’re going to be led, obviously, by Kendall Nead,” Rechlicz declared Wednesday. “She is a remarkable person…she brings it every day.” Nead has been honored in the preseason league poll as an All-Horizon second-team selection, and will bring an 11.1-point scoring average back to the Klotsche Center this fall. “We go as she goes,” Rechlicz continued. “She causes a huge matchup problem for the teams in our league. If they put someone smaller on her, we’re going to dominate the paint and run isolations with her. And if they want to put someone bigger on her, we’ll take ’em off the dribble.”
“I have been led by incredible seniors and upperclassmen for the past three years, and I think Coach and older players have really prepared me for this moment,” Nead said. The coaching staff has been pleased by her development on the court and by showing leadership off of it throughout the offseason. “This year you’ve seen her take a step,” Rechlicz said of Nead. “She’s still going with the same effort, she’s still leading the team the same way…her defense has really improved for us.”
While introducing this year’s team, Rechlicz also sought to praise the other players returning to form the Panthers’ veteran core. “I don’t want to miss out on talking about Angie Cera and Grace Crowley,” the coach said. “I think they’re going to be defining people on our team this year.” Cera stepped into the starting lineup last season and provided tremendous defense while leading the team in made triples. “In the past we’ve relied so much on her defensively, but she has really been a consistent scorer for us,” Rechlicz described Cera. Without Whitmershaus and Walstad, Crowley is the most experienced returning post player. Given opportunities last year, Crowley was solid, and ranked as the most productive per-minute rebounder on the team. “She’s a dynamic scorer in the paint and somebody who can defend 1-5,” Rechlicz said of Crowley. “She’s kind of going to be one of those people that nobody knows about. And I think she’s going to be another one of those, just like Jada Williams, that’s going to be a surprise for our league.”
Among her veteran holdovers, Rechlicz was also excited to introduce Williams, a redshirt freshman guard from Mason City, Iowa. There is an acronym, ‘DAWG’, which stands for ‘Disciplined Athlete With Grit’, explained Rechlicz. “And I would absolutely describe Jada as a ‘DAWG’,” Rechlicz said. “She’ll be able to play the top of our press. We’ll be able to press a bit more this season because of her athleticism.”
“I’m a defender,” Williams described herself. “I like competing, I love getting rebounds. I would just describe myself as a competitor.” Though Williams spoke at her first Panthers presser Wednesday, she has already been introducing herself to her new teammates for a year during team workouts. “She hurt us in practice every day last year, especially on the rebounding side,” Nead ruefully admitted of the physicality Williams has shown. “So we’re fortunate to have her suit up.”
Rechlicz is also expecting big things from her two returning point guards, Jada Donaldson and Kamy Peppler. “The great thing is that the two of them are kind of opposites,” Rechlicz analyzed. Donaldson proved a steady hand who led the Panthers by averaging more than two assists for every turnover last year. Given that the Panthers ranked among the bottom twenty teams in the nation in both free throw makes and attempts last year, Rechlicz also praised Peppler’s ability to create offense. “You’ve got Kamy, who is one of the most aggressive point guards in our league. She’s always trying to make the play, and can…Her shot is looking great; off the catch, off the dribble. She’s doing a great job of pushing the pace.”
There will be one young player on this team who Rechlicz knows particularly well already; her daughter, Payton Rechlicz. Though Payton will take a redshirt this year, she has been described as a “perfectionist” by her coach, and seems likely to inherit the role of ‘scout team’s toughest matchup’ from Jada Williams. “Not every parent gets to see their kid every single day in college, and I’m fortunate to have that opportunity,” Kyle Rechlicz enthused. “I really think we’re doing it the right way with the redshirt year…her goal this year is to make our top players better every single day.”
With so much change on many other conference rosters, Kyle Rechlicz sees an opportunity for the Panthers to make a move in the Horizon League this year. “I think it’s going to be one of the more competitive years in the league that we’ve seen,” she predicted Wednesday. “I don’t think there is a team that’s going to run the league this year…there’s not going to be a game that’s an easy game.”
With her team of solid returnees who are more experienced than it may seem at first glance, Rechlicz believes that her group is going about fall practices with a winning mindset. Throughout Media Day, her players often repeated their coaches’ offseason message to ‘win every day’ and focus on ‘the grind’ in order to achieve results. “It’s really a fun atmosphere to be a part of,” Rechlicz said. “I think it’s going to be a big part of our identity this year, is just how close we are and how we’re really fighting for the same goals.”