Devonna Smith, senior forward on the UMSL women's basketball team

The UMSL Tritons return eight players from last year's women's basketball squad, including senior forward Devonna Smith, an All-GLVC Defensive Team selection. (Photo by Danny Reise)

It’s a new era in University of Missouri–St. Louis women’s basketball as first-year head coach Katie Vaughn takes the reins of the program.

“Things have been going well and I am enjoying it,” Vaughn said. “Everyone is upbeat and positive about what we want to get done here. The girls are working hard and are doing what I am asking of them. We just need to keep taking strides in the right direction.”

Vaughn brings a great pedigree to UMSL after spending the previous three years as head coach at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. Last season, she directed the Blue Tigers to their best season in school history.

Vaughn inherits an UMSL program that finished 10-17 last season, including 5-13 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The Tritons return eight players from that squad, including senior forward Devonna Smith, an All-GLVC Defensive Team selection. Vaughn also welcomes eight newcomers to a squad that is looking to turn the program around and get it to the top of the conference.

“We might have eight returners and eight newcomers, but they are all sort of like freshmen in the sense that they are all in their first year with me,” Vaughn said. “They are all learning a new offense and a new defense and I think that is helping to keep them all together. You also don’t see that separation of newcomers and returners because of that. They are all working hard and push each other every day. They are hungry to win, and that is also driving them.”

Smith averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebound per game last season and will once again be looked upon to be a leader on the floor. Her 226 rebounds on the season a year ago ranked eighth on the single season charts, and she also connected on 44.9 percent from the field, while finishing with 24 steals and 22 blocked shots.

“Devonna is a player we need to have on the floor,” Vaughn said. “She is athletic and her rebounding is definitely a strength.”

Smith is the lone returner in the post area, meaning the Tritons will look to several newcomers, including junior forward Hazaria Washington and sophomore forward Tierra Snow.

Washington comes to UMSL following two seasons at Southeastern Community College (Burlington, Iowa), where she earned second team All-American honors a year ago after averaging 22.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

“Hazaria is a really athletic player. She knows the game well and is very basketball-minded,” Vaughn said. “She knows what it takes to score and is ready to score when she gets the ball. Defensively, she will create problems with her length and her athleticism.”

Snow is no stranger to Vaughn’s system having spent last season with her at Lincoln, where she averaged 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.

“Tierra is also very basketball-sensed and knows how to create shots,” Vaughn said. “She really understands the game defensively and although she isn’t as tall as a lot of other posts, she creates problems for those taller posts with that knowledge of how she reads the defense.”

Other newcomers in the paint include freshmen Kelly Kunkel, Morgan Settle and Logan Sims. Kunkel prepped at West Harrison (Ind.) High School, where she was a two-time all-conference selection, while Settle earned honorable mention all-state honors at Mooreseville (Ind.) High School after averaging 15.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Sims spent her final two years of high school at Ann Arbor Huron (Mich.), averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game as a senior and earned first team all-conference accolades.

“Kelly is long and athletic. She can shoot the three, can get to the rim and can post up, so she really has the ability to spread the defense out,” Vaughn said. “She works hard and dives on the floor more than anyone I know of.

“Moran is a good offensive player. For a 6-1 post, she can really shoot the outside jumper. I can see her being someone we can go to when we need a shot.

“Logan is another center and because she goes against Devonna and Tierra every day, she keeps getting better. She has taken big strides and we look for her to continue doing that.”

The guard position returns six players and will be bolstered with the addition of three newcomers, including two with previous collegiate experience.

Senior Angela Johnson started 16 games last season, averaging 5.9 points, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steals per contest, while senior Deaven Omohundro led the squad with 77 assists (2.96 per game). Sophomore Alexis Lawrence came off the bench in all 27 games as a freshman, averaging 5.0 points and hitting a team third-best 31 three-pointers.

“Angela knows the game and is very athletic,” Vaughn said. “Defensively when she wants to lock someone up, she will do it. She brings a lot of defensive heart to this team and offensively she continues to get better.

“Deaven brings a lot of experience and leadership to this team. She is someone the girls look up to both on and off the court. She also works hard and makes drills competitive and works to make everyone around her better.

“Alexis can shoot the three and can create her own shot by driving the lane. She reads the defense well and defensively she will create a lot of mismatches with her quickness.”

Junior Phoebe Robertson saw action in 20 contests, while senior Emily Brumitt appeared in 18 games. Senior Molly Barnes saw action in 12 contests, averaging 1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game, before a season-ending injury.

“Phoebe uses her speed well defensively and causes match-up problems,” Vaughn said. “Offensively she cuts hard and the offense we run should benefit her in that she can work off the screen to get her shot.

“The same goes for Emily. She’s an offensive-minded player and this offense will suit her.

“Molly brings a lot of hard work and intensity to our team. Anyone that goes up against her is going to have to work their tail off. I think she can also do some things for us offensively as well.”

Freshman Kelsey Sikes also returns after redshirting last season.

“Kelsey is a role player who understands her role,” Vaughn said. “She comes in and works hard every day and pushes everyone around her to get better.”

The group of newcomers is headlined by junior Jessica Zavoral and sophomore Kelly McGovern. Zavoral played two seasons at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where she averaged 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game last year, while McGovern transfers from Fordham University (New York). The Lincoln-Way East (Ill.) prep earned fourth team all-state honors as a senior after averaging 10.4 points, 5.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 steals per game.

“Kelly has been at that higher level and has been pushed by good point guards,” Vaughn said. “She works hard and can handle the ball. She’s not offensive minded, which most point guards aren’t, and we want to get her to that point where she looks to take that shot first, rather than pass it.

“Jessica is doing a lot of good things and is a special player. She is strong and can handle the ball, can create her own shot or make a good pass.”

Freshman Jazmine Smith also looks to be in the mix. She prepped at Pike (Ind.) High School, where she averaged 10.1 points, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game as a senior, earning all-conference and all-county honors.

“Jazmine will see significant minutes this year,” Vaughn said. “Defensively she causes problems with her quickness and offensively she can shoot the ball and can get to the rim. I believe she will be a special player at UMSL in the years to come.”

UMSL began its season with an exhibition contest at Southern Illinois University Carbondale on Tuesday before tipping off the campaign on Nov. 12 hosting Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) University.

Click here to view a video interview with Katie Vaughn, head coach of the UMSL women’s basketball team.

Click here or below to meet the 2012-13 UMSL women’s basketball team.

Mary Ann Mitchell

Mary Ann Mitchell