With the return of three players - Asia Taylor, Tia Gibbs and Shawnta' Dyer - that missed last season due to injury, the fifth-ranked 2013-14 women's basketball team boasts nine players that have started numerous games as a Cardinal.
Asia Taylor had notched 48 starts before a hip injury sidelined her for what would have been her senior year last season. After leading the team on the offensive backboard as a junior, Taylor was forced to watch the magical championship run from the sideline.
"It was hard," said the 6-foot-1 forward. "Of course I'm happy for my team and for all the success that they have, but as a competitor you have to want to be out there. You have to want to be in a big game like that. It was hard for me, but the fact that I knew that I was coming back was my motivation to keep working hard."
With nearly the entire roster returning from last season's National Runner-up season, Taylor is driven to earn time on the floor, explaining, "that's more motivation for me to come out and show people why I deserve to be on the floor and to work hard."
As the Cardinals began their march towards the tournament run, Taylor had rehabbed to a point to where she could have returned to the roster. With a redshirt season available and due to rust from the time off, Taylor opted to remain focused on returning for a full senior campaign.
"Honestly, I felt like I could have probably played, but I don't think I would have been effective," she explained. "I could have gave minutes, but the quality of the minutes compared to what I can do now is unquestionable."
Now completely healthy, Walz has high expectations for Taylor.
"She brings a lot of athleticism," he said. "Asia is the best that we have at getting to the basket and finishing. Rebounding wise, I think she'll give us a big boost on the boards. We're going to need Asia to defend for us in the block. She'll have to defend a lot of fours."
Her experience and leadership will also be key for the Cardinals.
"She's had success," Walz continued. "She knows what it takes. She has worked hard on her game."
Playing against UPike on Tuesday, Taylor recorded a double-double, leading the team with 19 points and 12 rebounds. She also had three steals and no turnovers in 15 minutes of action in the 127-40 exhibition win.
"She looked good," Walz said. "She rebounded the ball extremely well. She shot the ball well."
Playing alongside her teammates following a year off the court is something that Taylor now appreciates even more.
"It feels great," said Taylor. "I love being out there. My teammates love having me out there. I'm hyped every day and I play every day like its my last. I think I needed that last year just to open my eyes and show what I'm really blessed with this year."