Eastern Kentucky University is a special place for women’s basketball freshmen Kendall Wingler and Amerah Steele.
After visiting multiple schools, Steele and Wingler said EKU stood out from the other schools and the proximity to home was a factor in their decision.
“EKU just felt different, especially only being two hours from home,” Wingler said. “I liked being closer to home. Plus the coaching staff and the girls when I first got here, it just felt different than with a lot of other teams.”
The two Kentucky natives are looking to make an immediate impact on the women’s team this season as they prepare for their first game of the season on Wednesday at Indiana University.
Steele wants to make a statement on the court in her freshman year.
“I want to prove to everybody that I can play at this level and do well,” Steele said. “I would love to win an OVC championship.”
Wingler and Steele showcased their offensive skills on the high school level. They hope to bring that same offensive power to the collegiate level in their freshman year.
“I think our offensive game will help EKU a lot because last year they had really good players, but sometimes they just couldn't always put it in the basket. I think that we will help improve that,” Steele said.
Steele is a 5-foot-9 guard from London, KY. During her junior year, Steele helped lead her South Laurel team to a 26-6 record and a district championship. She averaged 21 points per game, with five rebounds and two assists. Steele was named second team all-state during her junior season along with first team all-region.
In Steele’s senior season, she led South Laurel to the KHSAA state tournament and to an upset win over the No. 1 team in the state, Sacred Heart. The tournament was later canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think definitely offensively it will be a big turnaround. We have a lot of offensive threats this year. I think with the speed of the game we have a lot of people that can get up and down the floor so I think that’s going to be a huge turnaround,” Wingler said.
Wingler is a 5-foot-10 guard from Ekron, KY. She played at Meade County High School where she is the all-time leading scorer in school history.
As a junior at Meade County, she averaged 26 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field. She was named first team all-region, all-state third team and won the third region offensive award. She has averaged 25 or more points per game in her first three seasons at Meade County.
“Being the all-time leading scorer was a really huge accomplishment for me,” Wingler said. “That was a goal of mine since I started playing at the start of freshman year. So being able to achieve that was all around great.”
Wingler knows that it will be different than high school and she will have to find other ways to score to help her team win games.
Being from Kentucky and being able to play for an in-state school is special for Wingler and Steele.
“Being able to play in Kentucky in our home state means a lot to me,” Wingler said. “There were a lot of schools that were out of state I could have went to but being close to home was a huge factor too. Being able to stay in state and being able to help Kentucky be known as the basketball state and it already is because of UK, but being able to do it for women’s basketball and just for Eastern shows people that you don’t always have to go to a big school to make a name. We want Eastern to be a huge name by the time we leave.”
Both players mentioned that the college game has a faster pace than high school, but they both enjoy getting up and down the court.
Last season, head coach Samantha Williams said her team would be an up-tempo team and with offensive threats like Wingler and Steele, the women’s team will be able to utilize the fast break opportunities to score quickly and often.
Team chemistry is a key component to having a successful basketball team and Steele and Wingler said this year’s team chemistry has been strong.
“Everybody clicked together when we first got here so I think the more we actually start playing games the closer we are going to become. But right now I think it’s great,” Wingler said.
The Colonels will open the season against Indiana and then travel to the University of Louisville to face Williams’ former team.
Williams was a longtime assistant coach at the University of Louisville, going back to 2011. While coaching the Cardinals, Williams helped the team reach the Final Four twice and the National Championship game in 2013. The Cardinals also made an Elite 8 appearance and advanced to the Sweet 16 four times while Williams roamed the sidelines.
Wingler and Steele are excited for the opportunity to play on a big stage to begin their freshman year.
“I think it’s awesome,” Steele said. “I’m excited for it… I think we can compete.”
Steele continued, “When you’re a little girl playing basketball you always dream of playing Louisville, Indiana, Kentucky, all these teams and now you get to play against them, it’s just crazy, an amazing feeling.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start of the basketball season and Wingler said the team is ready for the challenges ahead and ready to finally compete against other opponents.
Wingler said, “We haven’t been able to play games for a while. Our season has started late so I think everybody is ready to go play.”
Colonel fans will be able to watch the women’s basketball team at home on Dec. 5 against in-state rival Morehead State. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.