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Old, new faces hope to lead NCAA breakthrough for Ole Miss women’s basketball

Matt Insell was stressed at times during last season. This season, he is more at peace.

Entering his fifth season at Ole Miss, the Rebels’ women’s basketball coach once again has hopes of his team reaching the NCAA Tournament. The Rebels have made it to the postseason two of the past three seasons, reaching the Women’s NIT in 2015 and 2017.

With a recruiting class ranked as high as 11th in the country mixed in with a crop of returning seasoned veterans, the potential is there to go dancing in March.

The results on the court have to be a little different than in seasons past.

Ole Miss is coming off a 17-14 record and 6-10 in conference play and a first-round exit out of the WNIT by Grambling State.

“I’m excited about this team,” Insell said. “Obviously, we have a lot of returners, including our two leading scorers and two of the top scorers in our league. … Our freshmen are really doing well. Each one of those players has a chance to contribute in a big way.”

Senior guard Shandricka Sessom and junior guard Madinah Muhammad are the top scorers Insell is referring to and the duo must have a big season if the Rebels plan to have any postseason plans, let alone a deep tournament run.

Muhammad led the Rebels with 13 points a game and Sessom was right behind with 12.7 along with her team-best 6.1 rebounds a game.

“Having those two kids back really helps a lot,” Insell said. “You can really see a big difference in practice with their experience in particular to the guard spots. It’s an exciting time for us, and we’re ready to get going.”

Other key returners for the Rebels include juniors Cecilia Muhate (58 rebounds) and Torri Lewis (46.3 3-point percentage). Lewis is returning from a season-ending injury she suffered in late January.

Fresh faces

Four freshmen make up Ole Miss’ top-20 recruiting class in Day’Neshia Banks, Chyna Nixon, Milicia Reid and Promise Taylor.

With the departure of Taylor Manuel from under the basket, Taylor is expected to fill that spot in a rotation with returning sophomore Shelby Gibson. Gibson had knee surgery over the summer and is just now returning to basketball activities.

Taylor is 6-foot-6 and has a wingspan of 7-3. She was a dual-sport athlete, playing basketball and volleyball at Sammamish High School in Issaquah, Washington.

“I think we’re better in that spot,” Insell said. “I think they can play longer minutes. And then Promise in there I think we have two really good fives. Muhammad made a lot of strides this summer. I think we’re better in that position. I think we’re better in every position.”

Nixon was rated as one of the top 50 players in the country coming out of Nuemann Goretti High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Out of action

There will be two players unable to contribute this season as Reid and senior Chrishae Rowe are out. Reid suffered a season-ending injury during individual work in September and Rowe is dealing with a family matter. Rowe, who transferred from Oregon, played in only six games last season after sitting out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

The Rebels kick off their season on Nov. 10 when they host Northwestern State as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team.