Mike Carey will coach the team for the 19th consecutive season in 2019-20.

Mike Carey will coach the team for the 19th consecutive season in 2019-20.

The West Virginia women’s basketball team returns to the court on Thursday for the first time since March to open the season against Saint Francis.

WVU is hoping to make a return to the NCAA Tournament after not qualifying last season despite finishing with a 22-11 record. Head coach Mike Carey believed the Mountaineers did enough last season to qualify after posting an 11-7 record in Big 12 play.

“We finished third last year and didn’t get in the NCAA Tournament,” said Carey. “I think that had to do with our non-conference schedule last year, and we’ve corrected that.”

West Virginia has a challenging non-conference schedule this season. After its first four games of the season, WVU will travel to Mexico to participate in the Cancun Challenge where the Mountaineers are scheduled to play Creighton and New Mexico.

WVU will then wrap up its non-conference schedule with games against Mississippi State, Michigan State,and Syracuse in three of its last five games.

West Virginia has high expectations among the coaches in the Big 12. Despite Baylor being picked No.1 for the ninth consecutive season, the Mountaineers have been chosen to finish third. The Texas Longhorns were picked to finish second in the conference with one first place vote.

Carey thinks that, if West Virginia finishes in the top four of the Big 12 this season, they should return to the national tournament for the first time since the 2016-17 season.

“With a stronger non-conference schedule, if we finish in the top four of the league, we should get in,” Carey said.

After losing seniors Naomi Davenport and Katrina Pardee, West Virginia still returns one of the top teams in the Big 12.

Redshirt senior Tynice Martin is returning for the Mountaineers and was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. As of now, Martin’s status with the team remains in question due to legal issues.

The Mountaineers are also returning two talented, second-year players in Kari Niblack and Madisen Smith.

Last year, Niblack was named the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year and was named to the Big 12 Academic All-Rookie Team.

Niblack appeared in 33 games a year ago. She ranked second on the team and eleventh in the Big 12 with seven rebounds per game. Niblack also averaged nine points a game while scoring in double-digits 17 times.

Smith will be looking to build off a fantastic freshman campaign where she was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and Big 12 Academic All-Rookie Team. Last year, Smith appeared in all 33 games while making 29 starts.

Smith led the team in assists with 4.1 per game, which ranked her seventh in the Big 12. Among conference freshmen, Smith ranked seventh in three-pointers made with 33 and ninth in three-pointers attempted with 101.

WVU welcomes the Saint Francis Red Flash on Thursday to begin the season. The Red Flash are coming off a 16-17 season last year, and a runner-up finish in the Northeast Conference Tournament. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum with streaming services available on MountaineerTV.