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Women's Basketball - Sun, Oct. 26, 2008
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The TranSouth Athletic Conference women's basketball coaches have designated Union University as the team most likely to win this year's TranSouth title in the annual preseason coaches' poll.

The Bulldogs, who have won the two conference championships, received all nine of the first place votes and totaled 81 points. Freed-Hardeman University finished second with 66 points. The Lions reached the Fab Four last season. Trevecca, who finished as the 2008 National Runner-up, was voted third with 65 points. Bethel College is fourth with 49 points. Martin Methodist is just two points back in fifth place with 49 points. 

The TranSouth has been one of if not the best NAIA women's basketball conference for the last four years. Last season provided more proof of the strength of the conference. Four TranSouth teams held strong positions in the NAIA Top 25 all year and three of the final four teams were from the TranSouth. Union, Freed, and Trevecca all reached the final four teams and Trevecca advanced to the championship game.

At least one conference team has reached the championship game in each of the last four years. The championship has been won by a conference member in three of those years and one year (2007) both teams were from the conference. However, the conference member who won the NAIA National Champion wasn't the TranSouth champion in any of those three seasons. Lambuth and Cumberland were tied for third in the TranSouth in 2007, and those two teams made the 2007 NAIA Championship game.

Due to the tradition, strong coaches, and great facilities the TranSouth will be as competitive as ever and will see as many as four teams in the NAIA preseason poll this year. As you read the team capsules below you will get the sense that the TranSouth will again serve as a measuring stick for the rest of the NAIA and have a say in who wears the 2009 NAIA National Championship crown.

Mid-Continent University is the only school to have a new mentor on board this season with Dominic Tharpe. Tharpe served MCU as assistant women's basketball coach and head junior varsity coach last season under Rian Puckett. Puckett moved to Dyersburg State CC. Tharpe, a standout at Henry County HS in Paris, Tenn. played at Motlow State CC for Cumberland University men's coach Lonnie Thompson. He continued his college career at Park University in Parkville, Mo. and Bethel College. He graduated with a B.S. in education in 2005. He began his coaching career at Henry County and then Bethel College. His final stop before joining MCU was at his alma mater Motlow State CC as an assistant.

Below the coaches poll you'll find a capsule on every team in the conference.

TranSouth Women's Basketball
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Union University  81 (9)
2. Freed-Hardeman  66
3. Trevecca Nazarene  65
4. Bethel College  51
5. Martin Methodist  49
6. Cumberland University  36
7. Lyon College  31
8. Blue Mountain  17
9. Mid-Continent  10
Votes were given with a value of 9=1 point and 1=9 points.

BETHEL COLLEGE WILDCATS
McKENZIE, Tenn. - The Bethel College Lady Wildcats return a solid nucleus from last year's 14-16 overall record and 9-9 TranSouth Conference finish. The Wildcats return three starters and a total of nine returnees from last season.

First Team All-TranSouth selection and Honorable Mention All-American forward Nina Djokovic tops the list. She averaged 13.5 ppg and 8.45 rpg last season. Tristan Johnson (9.45 ppg, 1.8 apg) and Jelena Budimir (8.55 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.14 bpg) are the other two returning starters.

Senior forward Jenna Roney (6.24 ppg, 3.8 rpg), sophomore forward Teena Carter (7.03 ppg, 4.79 rpg) and sophomore guard Anna Trull (5.76 ppg) will be looked to for significant contributions this year.

Coach Chris Nelson, entering his third year leading the Wildcats program, added three junior transfers, Lanicka Smith (Allen County CC), Kashundria Berry (Hannibal LaGrange), and Joanna Ortiz (Allen County CC).

The freshman class includes: Kelsey Hamilton from Dickson (Tenn.) County HS, Erin Grant from Clarksburg (Tenn.) HS, and Ginny St. Lawrence from Franklin (Tenn.) HS.

Coach Nelson says of this year's team. "This team has high expectations for themselves. We return our solid core and have improved in the spots we needed to. As a coaching staff we evaluated our team and skill level and feel like we have the tools to be a serious post season contender. To fulfill our expectations many factors are involved. We have to stay healthy, develop the right mindset and create a little luck along the way."

BLUE MOUNTAIN COLLEGE TOPPERS
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Miss. - The Blue Mountain Toppers women's basketball team returns six (two starters) of 12 players off of last year's 5-26 team.

Third-year coach Lavon Driskell has signed five talented transfers and freshmen. How quickly the team can mesh together and understand the system of play will determine the degree of success the Toppers will enjoy. With a tough pre-conference schedule, Coach Driskell hopes the team will mature quickly and will be ready for conference play.

The six returning players are seniors Shayla Stroud point guard (9ppg, 3 rpg); Brittany Garner (5 ppg., 3 rpg); junior Katelynn Wright (7 ppg, 5 rpg); sophomores Kristen Coleman (6 ppg, 3 rpg); Ashley Hale (3 ppg, 2 rpg) and Joy Pierce (6ppg, 3 rpg).

The five newcomers include; Lauren Burgess (Northwest Mississippi CC) who brings good ball handling skills and speed, Jordan McCormick (Delta State) who sat out last year due to a medical redshirt, Caitlin Beckham, a 6' freshman, with good inside/outside play, Kala Morris (South Pontotoc HS) an all conference performer and Anna Lisa Powell the class 3A Player of the Year.

Coach Driskell stated, "Anytime you have this many new players coming in, the question is how quickly will they mesh together and learn your system, I believe this team has the means to be competitive in our conference. I feel better about this team than any I have had since coming to BMC."

CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
LEBANON, Tenn. - Cumberland's women's basketball team returns just four letterwinners from last year's club but welcomes seven newcomers, including a pair of junior college guards, one juco forward and a high school wing player from Mississippi.

The Bulldogs and sixth-year head coach Clint Mason must also win this season with a shorter bench, as only 10 healthy players will be available at the start of November.

Sophomore Keshia Brown is the team's leading returning scorer after averaging 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season. She is joined by senior Chaquaila Green (7.4 points) and junior Keshia Forrest (5.9 points).

Newcomer Tranisha Benton averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season at Volunteer State CC, while point guard Angie Wells handed out 5.3 assists per contest at Cleveland State CC. Post Stasia Holden grabbed 6.9 boards and posted 4.8 blocks per outing last year at Frank Phillips [TX] JC.

Mason is also very excited about freshman Simone Ryan, who averaged 19.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game at H.W. Byers HS in Mississippi last season, helping her squad to the 3A state championship.

FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY LIONS
HENDERSON, Tenn. - Experience and health will be two key factors for a Freed-Hardeman Lion team that is coming off a 29-8 season that included a trip to the NAIA Fab Four. While returning two starters, the team has no seniors on the roster and has dealt with a series of injuries to several key players in the off-season.

The Lady Lions' offense will again go through junior Jana Cross. A two-time All-American, Cross averaged 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season. The perimeter features a pair of deep threats in juniors Kristal Edney and Tara Deatheridge, both of whom missed time last year due to injury. Deatheridge was named to the All-National Tournament team, while Edney was a second-team all-conference selection averaging 13.1 ppg. Edney will miss the first half of the season due to injury.

6-foot-2 sophomore Meribeth Boehler has continued to improve and should see a increase in her playing time. With her size and aggressiveness, Boehler has a chance to make a impact in the paint. Classmate Whitney Johnson showed flashes of dominance last season and will be counted on for more minutes at both guard positions this season.

Freshman Hannah Parsley (Rector, Ark./Rector HS) is expected to see action in the backcourt. A versatile player, Parsley can play both guard spots as well as the three. Fellow newcomer Rakeshia Perry (Trenton, Tenn./Peabody HS) has a physical presence inside and will provide support off the bench when she returns from off-season knee surgery.

LYON COLLEGE PIPERS
BATESVILLE, Ark. - Improved versatility and a stockpile of experienced players are expected to power a Lyon College Pipers basketball team that finished with its first winning record (18-13) under head coach Tracy Stewart-Lange last season. Lyon placed fifth in the TranSouth with an 8-10 mark. Stewart-Lange expects improvement this season with four returning starters and a host of talented newcomers in the fold.

The quartet of Lyon returnees are led by sophomore sensation K.K. Hodges and senior leader Maribeth Waters. Hodges, a forward from Wynne, Ark., burst on the scene with a breakout year last season, averaging a team-high 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Those numbers earned Hodges a second-team all-conference nod and a league all-freshman team designation.

Waters averaged 11.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. The forward enters her senior season ranked ninth on the Pipers' career scoring list and fifth on the rebounding list. She has accounted for 1,137 career points and 541 career rebounds. She is one of only six Pipers to cross both the 1,000-point and the 500-rebound thresholds.

Also returning are starting guards Snezana Jovanovic (Vienna, Austria) and Hollye Jernigen (McAlester, Okla.). Jovanovic averaged 11 ppg last season and Jernigen led Lyon in assists with 88.

Stewart-Lange found five freshmen newcomers to help with depth and to help ease the departure of shooting guard April Carter, who graduated as Lyon's career 3-point queen, and LeAnna Peerson, who transferred in the offseason. Three of those newcomers are 6-0 post Lauren Ramsey (North Little Rock, Ark.), 5-11 forward Morgan Myrick (Huntsville, Ark.) and point guard Janey Jacimore (Russellville, Ark.).

MARTIN METHODIST COLLEGE REDHAWKS
PULASKI, Tenn. - Hopes are high for the RedHawks this year. With 14 new bodies to introduce to Transouth play. The RedHawks have added size in the post and accuracy from behind the arc. Depth at all positions could be the greatest strength for Coach Bell.

Key returning players are: 5'4" point Kaneka Brown, a great defender and should run the show for us this year - 5'10" forward Whitney Robison, an excellent scorer who is a former TSAC All-Freshman team member -

Key newcomers are: 5'6 shooting guard Lauran Hudgins (Motlow St. CC) who averaged 17 ppg and was first team all conference - 5'6" shooting guard Jordan Ramsey, return after red-shirt year at Tennessee Tech - 6'1" center T'Qwana Pendergrast, "Big T" (Motlow St. CC) was a Third Team All-American who averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game - 6'2" center Nakisha Strickland, "Strick" (Walters State CC) led WSCC to the Tennessee State Juco championship and the national tournament and was First Team All-Conference and All Tournament both years at WSCC - 6"0" forward Tiffany Travis (Walters State CC) is the most versatile player on the team - 5'8" guard Danielle Proudfit (Bradford HS) was First Team All-State and has great scoring ability - 5'11 forward Ashley Meeks (Smyrna HS) can play multiple positions on the court and can put the ball in the hole

Coach Bell feels this team has potential, "If they buy into defending we have a deep unit that has some scoring threats. Still we play in the toughest league in the nation, but focus we can hopefully keep our heads above water."

MID-CONTINENT UNIVERSITY COUGARS
MAYFIELD, Ky. - "New and improved" clearly describes the Mid-Continent women's basketball program under first-year head coach Dominic Tharpe. Tharpe, MCU's assistant last season, was an assistant at Bethel College (Tenn.) and Motlow State CC (Tenn.).

Tharpe will have four returning players from last season's (9-22, 1-15 TSAC) team. Ten of the 18 roster players are true freshmen and four are junior college transfers. "This team must grow up fast," acknowledges Tharpe feels he is putting a better product on the floor against what he considers an "amped up" schedule.

Leading the way are senior guards Brittany Butler (Carrollton, Texas/Hebron HS) and April Carter (5-8; LaCenter, Ky./Ballard Memorial HS). Both transferred from Shawnee College (Ill.) in 2007. Butler averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds last season. Carter averaged 6.1 points and 2.3 rebounds and hit 26 three-pointers. Also returning is sophomore forward Katie Mayes (6-1; Edgewood, Ky./Dixie Heights HS) averaged 9.1 points and 2.6 rebounds with 18 blocked shots as a freshman.

Transfers include: JC transfers Candace McGee (5-10; Detroit, MI/Consortium Prep HS), from Southeastern Iowa CC, Kandi Knupp (6-3; Luka, Miss./Tishamingo County HS) from Northeast Mississippi CC, point guard Tyqea Butler (5-7; Louisville, Ky./Waggener HS) a St. Catherine (Ky.) transfer

Freshmen players are: Abbey McLeod (5-9; Kuttawa, Ky./Lyon County HS) and Karissa Nicholson (6-0; Shelbyville, Ky./Shelby County HS) at the forward and post positions, point guard Nicki Dewitt (5-3; Louisville, Ky./Atherton HS), shooting guards are Sarah Jackson (5-1; South Fulton, Tenn.), Tierra Jackson (5-7; Madisonville, Ky./North Hopkins HS) and Renee Smith (5-6; Shepherdsville, Ky./Bullitt Central HS).

Coach Tharpe says, "Mid-Continent is taking steps to grow in the right direction of becoming better contenders in the TranSouth. Our schedule is designed to prepare us for the TSAC games. We have made huge gains already and could be one of those teams to sneak up on our opponents."

TREVECCA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY TROJANS
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Trevecca women's basketball team only returns one senior, the Trojan lineup is young but experienced after 2008's National Runner-up finish.

That senior is Jennifer Bognar (10.2 career points per game) who will continue to be the top option at the post. The return of Paige McFarlin (injured last season) will boost the post spot as will Jessica Spencer a 6'2" red-shirt sophomore.

Three juniors lead the guard position: Abby Lawson, Christian Gibson, and Casey Atteberry. Lawson can create scoring opportunities and defensively pressures the ball and blocks shots. Gibson and Atteberry and are equally dangerous passing or driving to the basket. K.C. Van Atta led the team in three-point field goals made last season, and Casey Pigue can distribute and score. Chelsey Taylor played in three games before taking a medical redshirt. Vanessa Pincheon and Shenita Gleaves are freshmen. Pincheon is a point-guard, while Gleaves' plays the wing.

Anglica Sails, who shined in the national tournament, is at forward along with Van Atta.

Three-point shooting will be a key like last season when nearly 30 percent of TNU's field goal attempts were three-pointers. Van Atta noted, "We have some great shooters. Our guards can really shoot the ball, and our post players can be dangerous as well."

The up-tempo offense will be accompanied by a high-intensity defense. A year ago TNU forced 15 turnovers and 11 steals per game which contributed to their 83.4 points-per-game average. "We want to make the other teams play our game," said Van Atta, "and our style of basketball is to pressure the ball, force turnovers, and run the floor. We have great athletes who make that style of play work well, and their play will only get better this year."

UNION UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
JACKSON, Tenn. - Union is returning four starters from last season's team that posted a perfect 29-0 regular season record. Union also won the TranSouth Conference Regular Season and Tournament titles for the second straight year, and participated in their fourth straight NAIA Fab Four last season.

Returning to the floor are 2008 All-Americans Josephine Owino, Kaitlin Dudley, and Kayla Hudson. Merideth Richardson Jacobs has also earned All-American honors in her career. Union's only loss from last year's squad was senior guard Crystal Eason who was named honorable mentioned All-American in 2008.

The Bulldogs are led by three four-year seniors, led by Owino the 2008 NAIA & WBCA Player of the Year. The other two seniors are guards Jacobs and Jessica Graves. Jacobs was a member of 2005 and 2006 NAIA National Title teams, while Owino and Graves were freshmen on the 2006 title team.

Kaitlin Dudley leads the junior class in her third season at Union, along with Lindsey Flynn. They are joined this year by two junior college transfers: Ashley Lillard a 5-11 forward from Parkland (Ill.) CC and Christina Ray a 5-8 guard from the University of Texas-El Paso.

Hudson, the returning point guard, leads the sophomore class that includes: post Zeinab Chan, guard Ella Joines, guard Laura Crittendon. The lone freshman is Lavanda Ross, a 5-8 guard from Jackson North Side HS.

The Lady Bulldogs look to continue the tradition of winning basketball. The past four Union teams have two NAIA National Titles, four national tournament semifinal appearances, and two conference titles. They have averaged 33 wins per seasons.

Head Coach Mark Campbell, now in his tenth season states, "We are returning the best shooting team in Union history. We look to be deeper this season and more athletic on defense." Campbell adds, "This team has a lot of experience in big games and that will help us as we work through our schedule and into post season."