2018-19 Season Primer: Part IX
UMKC Athletics 7-20-2018
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The UMKC women’s basketball team released their 2018-19 schedule on Monday, a season that will be navigated by a team with 10 newcomers on the roster. Get to know the newest additions to the UMKC family, in addition to learning more about matchups in the upcoming season, with all 10 installments of the 2018-19 Season Primer. Part IX features incoming junior Awal Ajak (Des Moines, Iowa) and a conference clash against Grand Canyon on Jan. 19.

Following a stellar two-year stint at Kirkwood Community College, Awal Ajak joined nine fellow members of the 2018 signing class in arriving on the UMKC campus for summer workouts. In her eyes, the transition from the junior college level to Division I hoops has been challenging but very much enjoyable nonetheless.

“Summer workouts were something different,” said Ajak. “I enjoyed every moment of it, from waking up in the morning with your teammates, getting after it, enjoying the development and the bonds that were built. The transition has been tough but I was ready for it.”

Entering a new atmosphere and thriving in different situations is nothing new to Ajak, who was born in South Sudan before moving to Egypt at the age of two and to the United States at eight years old. On the basketball court, her prep career unfolded at Des Moines East High School where Ajak flourished in her final season, averaging 11.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on the way to a First Team All-State selection.

Ajak’s success at the high school level forged the path to Kirkwood Community College where the 6 foot forward enjoyed continued success on the hardwood. In her first season at Kirkwood, she helped guide the Eagles to a perfect 37-0 season record and an NJCAA Division II National Championship. Ajak moved into a bigger role last season, starting in all 38 games and averaging 9.4 points on 42.7% field goal shooting and an outstanding 41.5% three-point shooting. In addition to efficient scoring, she added 2.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game as a versatile combo-forward, earning NJCAA Second Team All-American honors.

While Ajak already possesses a skill set that UMKC will rely upon as they navigate through the 2018-19 season, she is still working hard to take her game to another level. Through the summer workouts, she noted that her shooting and versatility are two areas she has been particularly focused on. The more well-rounded and equipped that Ajak and the nine other newcomers become, the better off the Roos will be in head coach Jacie Hoyt’s second season on the job. Accomplishing this task will be no easy feat, but Ajak finds encouragement in the words offered by her coaching staff, reminding her that “you were recruited for a reason.”

Above all else, Ajak has an emphatic answer as to what she believes will be the most important thing in order to achieve success as a team.

“Hunger! We have to want it more than everyone else.”

Scouting the Lopes

Following two road contests to open up Western Athletic Conference (WAC) play on the season, the Roos return home for two conference matchups, including a Jan. 19 contest against Grand Canyon. The meeting will be the seventh all-time between the WAC foes with the series tied at four apiece after the Roos claimed a season sweep of the Lopes a year ago for the first time in program history.

Similarly to UMKC, Grand Canyon will forge ahead in the 2018-19 season with a completely different looking team than the one that posted a 16-14 (9-5 WAC) record and finished third in the conference a year ago. The Lopes return just one starter from the previous season, sophomore guard Camille Hailey, and bring on seven newcomers, five of which entering their first season college season as freshman.

The Lopes retained only 19.8% of their scoring from 2017-18, with returners Kavita Akula and ShaRon Miller leading the group in averaging 4.5 points per game each last season. Given the entirely different makeup of the roster, determining the strengths and weaknesses of the squad will have to be evaluated after a month or two of play. Last year, Grand Canyon was dangerous beyond the arc as they led the WAC in three-point shooting percentage (36.3%) and three-pointers made (227). Only Akula returns with a 30% or better percentage from distance, however.

Two freshman entering the program give the Lopes a boost in the size department as forwards Kennedi Shorts and Carla Balague stand at 6’1 and 6’2, respectively. The join Miller as the only players listed at 6 feet or taller, giving the Roos a chance to size up favorably when the teams meet twice during the season.

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