NEWCASTLE Hunters basketballer Sophie Kleeman will be the old head in a team full of new faces when she returns to Alabama this month to begin her final year at Troy University.
The 21-year-old point guard has spent ‘‘summer vacation’’ at home in Newcastle with her parents, Rod and Janet, and catching up with family and friends before leaving on August 13 to prepare for her senior year at Troy under new head coach Chanda Rigby.
Kleeman endured an injury-plagued junior year at the NCAA Division I college last season as the Trojans struggled to a 1-15 win-loss record in the Sun Belt Conference and 2-26 overall.
Troy appointed Rigby in April to replace Michael Murphy, who had been at the college 10 years and coached Kleeman in her first three.
‘‘I remember when I was going over there for the first time and it’s just gone really quickly, but I’ve really enjoyed it,’’ said Kleeman, one of just two returning senior players.
‘‘I’ve grown up a lot. I couldn’t cook or clean before I went over there, so mum and dad are happy about that. On the basketball side, the game’s a lot quicker over there, so I’ve had to adjust to it and picked up the pace of it, which has helped playing back here.
‘‘We’ve got a new coaching staff this year and pretty much a new playing roster.
‘‘I’m really looking forward to it, because last season I don’t think we could have gone any worse. This year could be promising.
‘‘They were all close games – it wasn’t like we were getting beaten by 20 or 30 points – we just couldn’t get over the line.’’
Kleeman, a graduate of Newcastle High School, which she led to a national all-schools championship at Broadmeadow in 2008, hopes to secure a position on a Women’s National Basketball League team when she returns to Australia next year.
Strict rules governing the amateur status of college athletes have prevented her from playing for the Hunters in her off-seasons, but she is keen to pull on a green uniform and represent her home town in the semi-professional Waratah Basketball League.
‘‘This time next year I’ll come home and play for the Hunters, because I haven’t been able to do that for four years’’ she said. ‘‘Hopefully I can play WNBL somewhere, but if not, I’ll keep playing for Newcastle.’’
Kleeman will play home games in the new 5200-seat Trojan Arena in her final college season and Rigby will look to her to lead Troy out of the doldrums.
“At Troy, we have a new coaching staff, a new attitude, and a new state-of-the-art arena which will open up this season,’’ Rigby told the Newcastle Herald. ‘‘We will be depending on Sophie’s experience and leadership to help this team accomplish its lofty goals . . . for our new era.’’