NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The TranSouth Athletic Conference women's basketball race will begin on Thursday, January 7 at 6 p.m. with four games across the conference. The marquee game of opening night will take place in Jackson, Tenn. where NAIA No. 1 Union University (13-1) will host No. 22 Bethel University (9-4). The Top 25 battle pits Bethel, picked fourth in the TranSouth Preseason Coaches Poll against the Bulldogs who were picked to finish first by the coaches.
Another key match-up sees Cumberland University visiting Lyon College. The Pipers, who are receiving votes for the NAIA top 25, were picked fifth in the TSAC preseason poll - started the season 9-1 and now stand 9-3. Cumberland, winners in their last four outings, are 6-3 under first-year coach Jeremy Lewis.
The other two games will see Mid-Continent University (1-10) visits Nashville and No. 16 Trevecca Nazarene University (7-4) while Blue Mountain (7-7) travels to play No. 6 Freed-Hardeman (12-1) in Henderson, Tenn.
Martin Methodist (8-5) gets the night off before starting conference play on Saturday when they visit Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Mid-Continent University @ Trevecca Nazarene University
Blue Mountain @ Freed-Hardeman
Martin Methodist gets the night off before starting conference play on Saturday when they Union University.
Each member school submitted a review of their teams' pre-conference play heading into TranSouth play.
BETHEL UNIVERSITY WILDCATS
MCKENZIE, Tenn. - For the first time since joining NAIA D-I and the TranSouth, the Bethel University Lady Wildcats entered the top 25 pre-season poll. The Lady Cats are looking to build on their first NAIA National Tournament appearance last season.
"We approached this season by wanting to play a stronger non-conference schedule. I think we have done that and if we had not I don't think our team would be as ready for conference play," said Bethel Head Coach Chris Nelson. "But having playing our share of high quality teams, I feel our team is ready to take the punches and move forward!"
"It's always more fun to get into conference play; it seems like our team is more excited and always makes for great atmospheres."
The Lady Cats are led by Nina Djokovic who is listed nationally in several statistical categories. Djokovic is No. 7 in total rebounds per game, No. 9 in points per game, No. 13 in total scoring and in total rebounds.
As a team the Lady Wildcats rank No. 6 in the nation in free throw percentage and No. 23 in scoring offense per game.
In Bethels first game of the season, the
Lady Cats lost by two, 75-73 to No. 17 McKendree University. They bounced back
by defeating then No. 22 Auburn University Montgomery 77-60 at Freed-Hardeman. Bethel lost a heart breaker on a buzzer
beating shot to No. 10 Campbellsville University, 69-67. The Lady Wildcats took
to the road and fell to
Coach Nelson stated that the team was healthy and ready for play.
BLUE MOUNTAIN COLLEGE LADY TOPPERS
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Miss. - After jumping out to a 3-0 start, the Blue Mountain College Toppers enter conference play at 7-7. Three of the Lady Toppers' losses were by five points or fewer and the pre-conference play has coach Lavon Driskell optimistic heading into TranSouth action.
"We are young but we've had some really great games and some good games," Driskell said. "I think we have matured and will play even better when we enter the conference games. As I said in the preseason, I really like this team and I believe we can be a surprise in our conference."
Joy Pierce, a senior forward, is leading the Toppers in scoring with a 13.3 points per game and is followed by freshman guard Jessi Hayles at 11.2 ppg. Sophomore Anna Lisa Powell comes in at 10.6 ppg. "All of our players have stepped up and played well at times," Driskell said. "We are very balanced and on a given night we don't know who will step up, but we now know someone will."
After suffering a rash of knee injuries the past two seasons, Driskell reports a healthy squad. "We have been fortunate that we haven't had any injuries that has caused anyone to miss any games," Driskell said. "I hope we can to stay healthy, because the TranSouth will be as tough as always this year. You'd better bring your best each time out."
CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
LEBANON, Tenn. - Cumberland University heads into Thursday's conference opener at Lyon College 6-3 overall after a two-point loss to No. 13 University of the Cumberlands during the Cumberland Classic last week. Under first-year head coach Jeremy Lewis, the Bulldogs have improved steadily during the pre-conference slate and appear ready for the rigors of TranSouth play, albeit with a relative inexperienced squad.
Lewis has turned the focus of the club to rebounding and defense, and the Bulldogs currently rank first in the nation in scoring defense per game, allowing just 47.2 points per game. CU is also tenth in the country in field goal percentage defense, with opponents shooting just 34 percent from the floor.
Sophomore Tamara Gonzalez has paced CU with 13.4 points per game, including a career-high 28 in a victory last week over Tennessee Wesleyan. The Asuncion, Paraguay, native netted 25 points, then a career-best, December 12 against Fisk. Gonzalez is also shooting 51 percent (21-for-41) from three-point range this season.
Junior Allysia Bailey, a transfer from Wallace State CC, is averaging 10.4 points per game, while junior Keshia Brown is netting 9.9 ppg.
"I feel pretty good about where our team is right now," Lewis said. "We have continued to work hard every day. Once you get to the Christmas break, a lot of times that's when the light comes on for some of the younger players, and it has done that for some of our younger players, especially the ones who are going to be important to our team's success in January and February."
FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY LIONS The Lady Lions finished non-conference play with an impressive 12-1 mark and are currently sitting in the No. 6 spot in the most recent NAIA national rankings entering the conference schedule. FHU posted a 6-1 mark against teams either ranked in the top 25 or receiving votes, including two wins against then-No. 9 Lambuth (Tenn.) University.
Head coach Dale Neal, in his 16th season at Freed-Hardeman, won his 400th game with the program on Dec. 11 in FHU's 76-37 win over Lane (Tenn.) College. The Lady Lions have defeated teams from each of the NCAA's three divisions this season with an exhibition win over Division I Lipscomb (Tenn.) University and wins over D-II Lane and D-III Pacific (Ore.) University.
FHU ranks in the top 10 in eight statistical categories including rebound margin (3rd), scoring margin (5th) and total scoring (7th). Individually, Tara Deatheridge leads the NAIA in three-pointers made with 49 while she and Hannah Parsley have combined for 80 three-pointers, the most by any duo in the country.
However, injuries have once again created depth issues for the Lady Lions. Three players - Kristal Edney, Brittney Williams and Leslie Morgan - have been sidelined by injuries, taking the active roster down to nine. Edney and Morgan have yet to play and Williams will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining an injury three games into the season.
"[The injuries] have been disappointing for us," Neal said. "Kristal has not returned to the lineup due to recurring leg problems. We believed that Leslie and Brittney would make sizable contributions but both have been thus far sidelined with knee injuries."
Deatheridge and Parsley are among four Lady Lions averaging in double figures. Three-time All-American Jana Cross leads the way with 17.1 points and a career-high 9.5 rebounds per game, while Deatheridge has scored at a 14.2 per game clip. Meribeth Boehler is scoring 14.0 points per game and Parsley is adding 11.2 points per contest. Cross, Boehler and Maria Bagwell have combined for nine double-doubles already this season and Bagwell grabbed 19 rebounds on Dec. 19 against Pacific, the highest total for any Lady Lion in the last nine years.
Bagwell, who signed with FHU late in the summer, has turned into a very pleasant surprised for Neal's squad.
"Maria has come in and given us some quality minutes in several games," Neal said. "Because of her size (5-foot-7), she wasn't expected to be the significant rebounding factor that she has proven to be on several occasions."
The Lady Lions were picked to finish second in the conference behind defending national champion Union (Tenn.) University, but Neal's experience knows that even finishing second in the TranSouth Conference is never an easy task.
"Having four teams in the NAIA top 25 is evidence that we are a premier conference," he said. "In addition [to the four ranked teams], Lyon is getting attention on the national scene. Add to that Martin Methodist and Cumberland, who have shown that they have the ability to play with anybody, and you have the ingredients for a great conference race."
LYON COLLEGE PIPERS
BATESVILLE, Ark. - The Lyon College Pipers have enjoyed a lot of success in the first-half of the 2009-10 season and have posted a 9-3 mark through its first 12 games.
A huge reason for the success has been junior Honorable Mention All-American forward K.K. Hodges. The junior from Wynne, Ark. has earned seven double-doubles this season and became just the eighth Piper in school history to cross the 1,000-point and 500-rebound plateaus in a career.
Lyon, however, will have to start the TranSouth Conference schedule without its starting point guard Jordin Coleman, who is currently ineligible. Coleman started all 12 games for the Pipers in the season's first half and led the team in assists and three-point shooting percentage.
"I think we had the pre season experience that we had hoped for and thought we were capable of having so I was very pleased to have a group that stepped up to met the challenge," said head coach Tracy Stewart-Lange. "At this point in time, we are without Jordin Coleman (eligibility) and are trying to reshuffle and find a different line up and rotation to begin conference play."
"I think that our conference will be as competitive as ever and everyone has to be ready no matter who you are playing or where you are playing."
MARTIN METHODIST COLLEGE REDHAWKS
PULASKI, Tenn. - The RedHawks reach the 2009-2010 TranSouth Conference schedule with a winning record at 8-5. Martin Methodist had some good non-conference wins as the majority of the first half of the season was played on the road. The RedHawks took a pair of wins at the Bethel University Classic against Brescia University and Great Falls University. Martin Methodist also defeated Fisk University and Auburn-Montgomery. Whitney Robison was selected TranSouth Player of the Week and this was the first player of the week selection for Martin Methodist in over a year.
"With the season in full swing I am pleasantly surprised by how well our ladies have responded to the situation they were placed in. Our pre-season conference schedule had its ups and downs but for the most part we have adapted to our opponents pretty well. Playing eight out of the first eleven on the road the team responded well," said first-year head coach Ed Pipes. "Micah Anderson and Jesse Christopher have been pleasant surprises and I believe will continue playing well."
"The overall conference races will be extremely difficult with so many teams ranked in the nation. We are prepared to work hard."
MID-CONTINENT UNIVERSITY COUGARS
MAYFIELD, Ky. - Mid-Continent University women's basketball team salvaged a win on Dec. 12, coming back from nine points down with seven minutes left when junior forward Katie Perry scored a lay-up with 10 seconds left in a 60-58 win over Marygrove (Mich.), in the third-place game of the College of St. Joseph Invitational.
MCU lost to NAIA No. 2 St. Xavier and No. 17 McKendree before losing by just 10 to Lindsey Wilson a team that received votes for the top 25 in the Dec. 14 poll. With a 1-10 record, MCU begins the TranSouth schedule at Trevecca Nazarene, Jan. 7, and hosts Lyon College, one of the TSAC's up-and-coming squads, Jan. 9.
"I know it is going to be rough," acknowledges first-year head coach Courtney Nicley, who adds, "MCU will go into each game giving as much as they know how to give. I believe that our effort this season has been better than I expected."
Junior forward Alisha Herndon is expected to miss nearly three more weeks due to a foot injury, keeping 6.9 ppg and 4.1 rpg on the bench. Only one Cougar out of the remaining eight players averages more than 10 points -- junior guard Tiffany Payton has scored 11 or more points in 7 games and leads the Cougars with 14 three-pointers, including the game-tying dagger with 46 seconds left in MCU's win. Payton averages 12.1 ppg and 3.9 rpg.
Perry averages 8.7 ppg and 5.2 rpg with 11 or more points in five games. Sophomore forward Amanda Daugherty averages 6.7 ppg and a team-best 6.9 rpg and earned All-Tournament honors just before the break. Senior center Kandi Knupp ranks fourth in the NAIA with 33 blocked shots and averages 9.5 ppg and 5.2 rpg, and junior guard Lindsey Davis leads the team with 28 assists and 19 steals and averages 5.8 ppg and 3.3 rpg.
TREVECCA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY TROJANS
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - NAIA Number-16 Trevecca opened the pre-conference schedule with three straight wins before falling to No. 24 Oklahoma Christian at the Southern Nazarene Classic. Trevecca bounced back with a win over then No. 15 Southern Nazarene and NCAA D2 Erskine College in the North Georgia Classic. North Georgia hung loss two on the Trojans despite trailing by 20 points. No. 25 Georgetown shocked Trevecca at Moore Gym in the next outing. Trevecca won a pair of games to bounce back before losing their last pre-conference game to No. 18 Wayland Baptist in the Daytona Beach Shootout. Trevecca was playing without two of its starters.
Trevecca will kick-off the TranSouth Athletic Conference season on Thursday, January 7 when they host Mid-Continent University at 6 p.m.
Trevecca coach Gary Van Atta learned a great deal from his teams play during the pre-conference schedule.
"I found out more about this year's team in the pre-conference schedule than I did over that same time period with my first four teams here at Trevecca," Van Atta said. "It's been telling of our strengths and weakness'. We found out where we are young and where we are experienced."
"The good news is, despite producing more losses than we had hoped for, I think we are further along than I expected to be. This team is improving and beginning to create its own identity."
Senior point guard Christian Gibson leads the TranSouth with 3.36 steals per game Abby Lawson is third in the TSAC with 1.36 spg. Trevecca has three of the top four block leaders in the conference. London Elie (2), K.C. Van Atta (1.5), and Abby Lawson (1.36) are the three Trojans in the top four. Lawson leads TNU with 4.27 assists per game and is second in the TSAC. Gibson is third in the conference with 3.73 apg. Gibson is No. 7 in the NAIA is steals while Elie is No. 11 in blocks. As a team the Trojans are No. 1 in the NAIA in blocks per game.
With the youth movement this year the Trojans have had some pleasant surprises in the early part of the season.
"London Elie has been able to step in and rebound and her court maturity has been incredible," said coach Van Atta. "Paige McFarlin has been shooting incredibly and has finally seen some relief from her injuries the last two years. Chelsea Taylor and Casey Pigue have both had great pre-conference play.
Trevecca has five different players atop the five major statistics categories. Van Atta leads the team with 12.2 points per game. Angelica Sails is tops in rebounds with 7.0 per game. As mentioned Lawson (assists), Gibson (steals), and Elie (blocks) topped in the other three categories.
Lawson is approaching (1447) the 1500 career point mark and already has 522 career rebounds, 288 assists, 235 steals, and 141 blocks. Van Atta, a junior, is just 107 points away from the 1000 career point mark. The team leader in scoring is also delivering career-high pace of 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. Van Atta is tied with Hilary Howard Montgomery and Mariska Reed with 169 made career three point baskets. They are just three behind Jennifer Wilson who hit 172 in her career.
Van Atta believes this year's TranSouth conference race might be more difficult than in past years.
"It's hard to say this with a straight face, but this might be the best and deepest our conference has been in my time at Trevecca. From top to bottom it is going to be difficult to get a win at home or on the road. Union is clearly the top team and ranked Number-1 in the NAIA. Freed is playing at a high level and ranked in the top 10. Bethel is going to be a contender again this year. Then you have Lyon who has some tremendous talent and Martin Methodist that looks to be very strong again."
UNION UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
JACKSON, Tenn. - NAIA No. 1 Union University completed the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 13-1 record. Their only blemish was a seven point loss to No. 2 St. Xavier (Ill.). Of the 14 non-conference teams that Union has played, 12 of the opponents are ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA rankings. Union is 11-1 in those games, including a 3-1 record versus top 10 teams and a 7-1 mark against teams in the top-25.
"We have played well in spurts but have only had one complete game up to this point," said Union head coach Mark Campbell. "Consistency from top to bottom is the goal and we are coming together in purpose. Hopefully, in the next two months we can put it all together."
"I have not been surprised by any one individual but I am proud of the eagerness our players have demonstrated towards each other. I do not know what "our very best" looks like up to this point."
Coach Campbell feels this year will be no different during conference play, "It looks like the conference might be even a little deeper this year with the pre-conference season performances of Lyon, Cumberland and Martin Methodist. It ought to be another great year for the TranSouth."
Union extended their NAIA No. 1 ranking streak to 28 straight rankings covering three seasons. Union also extended their home winning streak to 50 games. Senior guard Kaitlin Dudley was named as the preseason TranSouth Player of the Year. She leads Union with 16 points per game and entering the first conference game of the year, is just 19 points shy of 2,000 for her career.
Three other Lady Bulldogs, Sara Chan, Kayla Hudson and Jessica Graves are on pace to reach the 1,000 point career marks by the season's end.