December 9, 2022
Kansas State is finding its answers
When Ayoka Lee was ruled out with an injury, the Wildcats season was deemed finished too. Now at 8-1, Kansas State is proving people wrong.
Well, there’s always next season for Kansas State. That was the external sentiment after the news that Ayoka Lee would miss the season with a knee injury. On the inside? They were ready to prove people wrong.
“I think coming into this year, there were a lot of unknowns obviously with Ayoka being out. A lot of people were putting a big question mark kind of on the season that we were gonna have, and I think that really fueled us just from the beginning, knowing that we’re gonna have to look a little different this year to be successful,” said Kansas State guard Serena Sundell.
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The Wildcats currently sit at 8-1 on the season, including a big win against Iowa. You can consider some of those unknowns answered. The biggest question was how the Wildcats’ style of play would change without the usage of Lee in the post. While it wasn’t the plan, there was an excitement to the newness.
“Coming in, we were all excited to kind of see what this year was gonna bring and kind of this different style play we were gonna have. So I think there was just a lot of excitement coming into the season. And we just had to learn how to play together quickly. And I think that’s really propelled us to the great November that we had,” Sundell told The Next.
Serena Sundell has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the change as her role has increased.
“I knew I was gonna have to be more of a scorer this year and play a bigger role and just step up my game in a lot of different ways. I think each game I’m just trying to be more aggressive and know when to kind of find my shot and try to find opportunities for my teammates. Having some new girls come into our team I just kind of know what the coaching staff, especially Coach Mittie, maybe what he’s kind of looking for, his expectations for our team,” Sundell told The Next.
One of those “new girls” is Oklahoma transfer Gabby Gregory who is statistically having a career year. Gregory is averaging 21.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists which are all career highs. She credits the environment she is in for allowing her to make those steps.
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“Everybody believes in me. That’s really just what you want is people around you that believe in you. ‘ve always believed in myself. I’m very, very grateful to be surrounded by my teammates and my coaches that are just so supportive of me that have allowed me to play the way that I know I was capable of,” Gregory told The Next.
In her time in Manhattan, Gregory has already made a great impression on her Kansas State teammates.
“She’s already won Big 12 player of the week, which is not surprising to me at all. Um, I think she just brings some confidence to our team and. Obviously, Yoki was a big scorer for us last year, so that was a missing piece that we were trying to find and she just has stepped up in every single way in more ways than we could ask for,” said Sundell about Gregory.
In Gregory’s opinion, the team success that the Wildcats are seeing comes from the same environment.
“I think that everyone just works so hard. Everyone is so selfless as well. Everyone knows their role and honestly, we could have, three or four different people be the leading scorer on any given night. Everybody wants to see each of us be successful. I really love to play with the girls on this team because everybody just wants to win so bad,” said Gregory.
A team surrounded by question marks seems to have found their answers in Sundell and Gregory. The two will look to finish their non-conference games strong before opening Big 12 play. The Wildcats open the conference season against Texas on New Year’s Eve.
Written by Tyler DeLuca
Tyler DeLuca has been contributing to The Next team since May 2022. Tyler currently is the Big 12 beat writer for The Next. Tyler's work is also featured on Twitter with The Committee, hosting the "Art of the Paint" podcast and on Gameday U Hoops throughout the college season.