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Q&A: Women’s basketball head coach Kate Popovec-Goss reflects on her second season

Kate Popovic-Goss during a timeout against Illinois State on February 22, 2024. Photo by Rodrigo Perez.

As the final buzzer sounded in Moline on March 14, the Bradley women’s basketball team walked off the court for the final time this season, finishing with a 6-26 record. 

This year was the second straight season in head coach Kate Popovec-Goss’ era that the Braves finished with 20 or more losses and lived near the bottom of the conference. 

The season was less than ideal for Bradley, but it would be foolish to ignore the extreme circumstances the team faced. 

The Braves started the season 4-5 and played competitively in their losses despite losing junior forward Kaylen Nelson to a season-ending injury. Nelson was leading the team at the time of her departure, scoring 15.6 points on 45% shooting and nearly 39% from three.  

After Nelson went down, Bradley was plagued by injuries for the rest of the season, and by the end they’d lost five key rotational players for significant time. 

To make matters worse, shortly after the season, six of the Braves’ key players entered the transfer portal. Heading into next season, Popovec-Goss will be tasked with replacing 61% of her team’s minutes and 69% of the team’s scoring production.

On Monday, Popovec-Goss spoke with The Scout about the outcome of this season, her plans for the future and the transfer portal’s impact on mid-major schools. 

Q: When you accepted this job, you knew it would take time to turn things around. As you reflect on year two, how close do you think you and the team are to doing that? 

Popovec-Goss: I think it takes time. Injuries really hindered us this season. I think everyone was looking forward to a great year. What that looks like in the winning column? It would have been better than what we were able to do this year, but in the same token, we were still really young and working to find our identity.

Those are things that you can’t control. This season taught us how to fight through adversity, and I think it built a lot of toughness. I’m looking forward to bringing those things back next season. We are really excited about the players we are bringing in, and I think next year has the chance to be a really positive one.

Nika Dorsey on the sideline against Illinois State on February 22, 2024. Photo by Rodrigo Perez.

Q: What areas do you think the coaching staff and the team as a whole could’ve been better at this season?

Popovec-Goss: The biggest thing we need to improve [on] is our defense. We have to get a lot better at it. As a coach, I have to be slightly more demanding and hold them to a different standard. I’ve already challenged our returners. They understand that it will be a really challenging off-season, but in the best way. 

Q: What areas are you looking forward to building off of going into next season?

Popovec-Goss: Many of our players gained a lot of confidence. They played a lot of minutes, saw what it was like to play in this league and now understand this league. 

I’ve coached in this league for two years. As we get into the next season and build our identity, we’ll have a good sense of who we are and what we’ll try to be moving forward. I think that’ll be awesome for us. 

Q: We often see the transfer portal from a player’s perspective, but from a coaching perspective, what does it feel like to potentially lose players you’ve recruited, coached and built relationships with over your first two seasons?

Popovec-Goss: It’s challenging. As the portal has grown, coaches must prepare for it. It has changed the game, especially at the mid-major level. We have now become a resource for other schools to evaluate kids. If you look at many of the other mid-major programs across the country, they’re dealing with a lot of the same roster turnover. 

At the end of the day, if you truly feel like Bradley isn’t the right fit, then you’re not going to be successful here. You’re not going to be the best version of yourself here. What I want for our players is that they can go somewhere and have the best success that they can have.

We’re looking to recruit players who fit who we are and what Bradley is trying to build.  

Q: How active does the coaching staff plan to be in the transfer portal recruiting players to come to Bradley?

Popovec-Goss: We plan to be active and utilize the portal; it can be very beneficial. You saw that this season with Kaylen, who unfortunately went down. That type of splash is something we can get in the portal because she found the right fit for her, and that’s our goal.

We have a lot of needs. We pretty much need one person at each position on our roster. We’re excited to dive in and get those kids to Bradley.

Isis Fitch on the bench against Illinois State on February 22, 2024. Photo by Rodrigo Perez.

Q: Regarding recruiting freshmen this offseason, what areas will the coaching staff emphasize the most?

Popovec-Goss: In this freshman class, we needed a little bit of everything, and we hit the jackpot. Two of our goals were to continue to add scoring, length and size at all positions. We got a great scoring point guard in Nia Jones from Omaha. She’s a true floor general and super tough-nosed. We got Lila Posthuma from Wisconsin. She’s a very versatile player. She can stretch the floor, facilitate for her teammates and has tremendous length and mobility. We also signed Ellie McDermid from Wisconsin, a tremendous shot blocker and rebounder who can guard multiple positions. 

We recruited a balanced class that fills a lot of needs, specifically with getting bigger and more mobile. 

Q: What message would you give any Braves fan reading this article as you look ahead to next season and continue to rebuild this program?

Popovec-Goss: First, I want to thank them for their support all year. It was a challenging year, there’s no secret about that. We have tremendous fans and community support that we anticipate growing in the future. 

Secondly, I am committed as a head coach to rebuilding this. I’ve got a team full of players who are committed to the same thing. I’m excited for us to get healthy, and next year we’re going to have a lot of great things to talk about.

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