KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSNT) – The Big 12’s coaches expect the Jayhawks to have a great season.

They’re picked to finish third in the conference, which is the the highest KU women’s basketball has been ranked on the preseason poll since 2009. The team returns a core group from the WNIT championship squad, but it’s still a new year and there are some changes. At Big 12 media day, players said the team is new and its goals have refreshed.

“What motivates me is how much me, as well as [Taiyanna Jackson and Zakiyah Franklin], as well as Brandon [Schneider] have invested in this program,” super-senior Holly Kersgieter said. “Just that thin line we’re on of having success. You can define success however you want. I think, for us, we just haven’t gotten there yet.”

KU lost Chandler Prater to the transfer portal, but freshman S’Mya Nichols needed a starting spot, head coach Schneider said.

“She’s been terrific and we’re going to rely on her a lot,” he said. “We, right now, anticipate her being our fifth starter. With her versatility and IQ, we’re going to move her around to a lot of places.”

Practices have changed, too.

“We changed our pace,” center Taiyanna Jackson said. “We want to play faster. We want to be able to get out and run. We want to be able to press, maybe, pick up 94 feet. Everybody up there.”

Kersgieter and Franklin, two quiet players, have become vocal leaders.

“As this year has slowly progressed, I realized this is really my last,” Kersgieter said. “What do I have to lose? We have a lot of new people and I need to be the best veteran I can be. Part of that was just being vocal, and if anything, being annoying.”

The team agrees it’s ready to live up to the high expectations it has.

“It lets us know that the growth and the direction that this team is heading is obviously the right direction,” Franklin, KU’s leading scorer in 2022-23, said. “We’ve been picked 8th, last and so on, but right now, third is a good spot. But, we obviously have much more work to be done.”

KU got an extra 10 days of practice to prepare for its European exhibition trip in August. The time got the Jayhawks a head start identifying strengths, weaknesses and building chemistry. All three players at media day agreed the team chemistry is the strongest it’s been since they got to KU.

The Jayhawks open their season Nov. 8 against Northwestern State.