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Women's Basketball - Mon, Oct. 31, 2011
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The TranSouth Athletic Conference women's basketball coaches have voted and Union University is the unanimous choice to win the 2011-2012 TranSouth Championship. The Bulldogs reached the finals of the NAIA Championships last season. UU received all eight first-place votes.
  
Freed-Hardeman University and Bethel University tied for second place in the poll. There was a tie for fourth place as well between Martin Methodist and Lyon College. Cumberland was just one point back of MMC and LC in sixth place. Blue Mountain and Mid-Continent followed the Bulldogs to round out the poll.
 
Union's women return just one starter from last season with five returning players overall. Senior Lavanda Ross, the lone returning starter, was an All-American last season.Union head coach Mark Campbell has seven newcomers to the program that will be called on to step in and contribute from the start. Union finished as TranSouth Regular Season and Tournament Champions in 2011.
 
TranSouth Women's Basketball
2011-2012 Preseason Coaches Poll

Union University ... 64 (8)
Freed-Hardeman ... 52
Bethel University ... 52
Martin Methodist ... 33
Lyon College ... 33
Cumberland University ... 32
Blue Mountain ... 13
Mid-Continent ... 11
( ) = First Place Votes

The TranSouth sent three teams to the NAIA Championships in 2011. Union, Freed-Hardeman, and Bethel. Union and Freed-Hardeman each made the NAIA Fab Four.

The only new coach in the conference is Ryan Smith at Mid-Continent, but he is a familiar face having assisted with the women's team last season. Smith has been the Cougars men's basketball assistant coach for the last two seasons. He was student assistant the season prior to that. Smith is also an alumnus of MCU.
 
To help you prepare for the upcoming season, you'll find a season preview, provided by each schools sports information office, of each TranSouth women's basketball team.
 
BETHEL UNIVERSITY WILDCATS
MCKENZIE, Tenn. - The Bethel Lady Wildcat women's basketball team heads into the 2011-12 season with the same goals and high expectations as usual.
 
Bethel shoots for its fourth straight NAIA National Tournament appearance, returning nine players from last season that won 27 games and saw the Wildcats finish No. 6 in the final national rating.
 
Coach Chris Nelson enters his sixth season at the helm of the Lady Cats with a 15 player full roster that includes four seniors that all have "big game "experience. The recruiting class will be asked to step in quickly and fill the absence of three departing program builders, Teena Carter, Anna Trull, and Darnisha Lyles. "The three departing seniors all knew their role and played it so well from rebounding to defending and being coachable," stated Coach Nelson.
 
"We definitely have numerous reasons for optimism surrounding this squad. First I think it starts with our leadership and toughness all our returners bring back. We pride ourselves in defending and rebounding and I think our players have done a respectable job passing it on to our newcomers. It has not been easy for our players, but it is our job as a coaching staff to help them learn and grow, "said Nelson.
 
Two of the top players in the TranSouth conference look to form the nucleus of the Bethel squad this season. Sophomore guard Molly Wallsmith and senior forward Jana Roney are back. Wallsmith started all 34 games while leading her team in scoring at 12.15 ppg. Last season she earned conference Freshman of the Year and 1st team All-TranSouth honors. Jana Roneycame off the bench most of last season but stillled the team in scoring (11.5ppg)during conference play. She earned a spot on the TranSouth All Tournament team and also received 2nd team TranSouth-honors.
 
Four other returners will play a large role with the Lady Wildcats, seniors Kelsey Hamilton, Hailee Deckard, Takara "TK" Harris and sophomore Katie VanDyke. Hamilton averaged7.38 ppg starting the majority of last season. She knocked down67 three-point baskets. Deckard returns from a mid- season ACL injury playing in the first 12 games of the season where she averaged 9.5 points and six rebounds per game. TK started much of last season and will see time both at the point and shooting guard positions.She averaged almost five points per game last season and is looked upon this year to be more aggressive and take more shots. "She handles the rock as good as anyone I have ever coached and has a great ability to create for others. She is really good at reading the defense and I can't wait for people to take notice of how well she can shoot the ball," commented Coach Nelson. Katie VanDyke was on call last season from behind the arc with limited playing time. Vandyke shot 48% from behind the line knocking down 28 three- point shots.
 
Six newcomers will join the Bethel squad this season and are heavy in athletic ability. Small forward Jasmine Taylor has already left a favorable impression on the coaching staff with her ability to light it up from anywhere on the court. Taylor comes to Bethel after playing her first two collegiate seasons at Arkansas State. Sophomore center Akaycha Robinson at 6'3" will fill the void in the middle and will be called upon to play big minutes for the Cats."AK has tremendous ability and is improving every day and will be as good as she wants to be. Her knowledge and awareness of the game is improving daily.
 
She is not lacking in talent," stated Coach Nelson. High profile and local high school athlete Jalita Fason comes to Bethel after being on the coach's radar for three years. Fason shows flashes of her ability daily and looks to be inserted into the lineup in the second semester. Fason's fellow Northside High School teammate Jessica Cobb adds length and a natural ability on both sides of the ball that will only improve as she continues to mature into the system. Memphis native Ashley Small fits well with the system and is ultra athletic and has great ability to drive and rebound. She has battled multiple preseason injuries and is taking the necessary steps to get healthy. Rounding out the new class is Camille Cooper. Cooper adds great work ethic and deep knowledge of the game that comes from her high school days from right up the road in Gleason, TN.
 
Not to be forgotten is forward junior Jasmine Porter who saw limited minutes last year while battling medical issues. She did step into some big games and play valuable minutes. "Porter is an under size post that can play inside or out and runs the floor great in transition. I think the game comes easy to her and hopefully with experience that will be more and more evident," said Nelson. She will be called up early and often to play big minutes due to Jasmine Taylor not being available until December.Sophomore combo guard Heather Capps played reserved minutes last season and has not only seen her body mature to the college game, but her basketball awareness as well. She leads by example and competes every single day. Haley Miller rounds out the sophomore group. She played a backup role at the guard position last year. Miller enters this season in her best condition ever, and has a strong desire to find her way into a rotation.
 
BLUE MOUNTAIN COLLEGE TOPPERS
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Miss. - The Blue Mountain College women's basketball team returns six (two starters) of 11 players off of last year's 7-22 team. Sixth-year head coach Lavon Driskell has signed six, 4 transfers and 2 freshmen. So, the outlook is one of experience, but with many questions unanswered. How quickly can the team mesh together and understand the system of play will determine the degree of success the women will enjoy.
 
The six returning players are juniors Samantha Burns (4.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Candace Davis(3.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg);Jessi Hayles(8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) Bam Bam Robinson(3.9ppg, 3.1 rpg) sophomores Kyesha Clark (3.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg); and Chelsea Hussey (2 ppg, 1.3 rpg). All six returning players have a great deal of game experience.
 
The six newcomers include; Northeast Mississippi CC transfer Amber Johnson who averaged 11.4 ppg, Xenobia Lavender, an East Central Community College transfer, is an outstanding leaper and rebounder, Twin Sisters Brandy and Brittany Walls transfers from Northwest MS CC, averaged 3 ppg and 1.7 ppg respectively. Freshman signees are Tera Hill from Robinson H.S. in Tampa, Florida averaged 5.6 ppg and 5.8 assists per game and Kati Prince from Waverly Central High School, Waverly, TN, had a brilliant career but suffered an ACL injury early in her senior year, but went on to average 15.9 ppg . I think we will be a better team, but the conference is so tough, you never know how that will play out. We will show up and give it our best.
 
CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
LEBANON, Tenn. - Cumberland returns seven letter winners and added five newcomers, including a pair of transfers, for third-year head coach Jeremy Lewis.
 
Last year's leading scorer, Casie Cowan, returns at point guard and will be joined in the backcourt by senior Tamara Gonzalez, juniors Kristi Landers and Courtney Atkinson and freshman Tasia Blue. Junior Simone Ryan will also play on the wing behind Gonzalez after redshirting last season.
 
Cowan was one of two players to start all 30 contests last season for CU and averaged 12.4 points, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals per outing. The Seymour, Tenn., native posted 13.5 points against TranSouth Conference opponents, scoring a season-high 28 points against Martin Methodist and recording double figures in 21 contests. She was named Second Team All-TranSouth and was a member of the All-Freshman Team as well.
 
Gonzalez got off to a slow start in 2010-11 but netted 7.6 points on 35 percent shooting from 3-point range against TSAC opponents. Landers also made 35 percent of her 3-point attempts last season while averaging 4.2 points and 1.3 assists per game.
 
Atkinson played two years at Tennessee Temple University, earning All-Conference and Division II All-American honors both seasons. She averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game as a sophomore. Ryan recorded 7.2 points and a team-best 6.5 rebounds per game in 2009-10 as well as 7.7 points and 7.0 boards per outing as a freshman.
 
Blue enjoyed a stellar prep career, first at Antioch and then at Cane Ridge High School in Nashville, averaging 14 points and 10 assists per game as a senior. Junior Madison Pavan and sophomore Stefanía Ibague add depth and experience at the guard spot as well for the Bulldogs.
 
Junior Jessica Pace, who averaged 10.0 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game, leads a front court that includes junior Samantha Harper, sophomore Sarah Collins and freshman Katie Smith.

Collins was a First Team All-Conference selection and Freshman of the Year last season at Lambuth University, averaging 12.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. The Dickson, Tenn., native scored in double figures in 17 of 26 contests, including career-high 36 points at Christian Brothers, and posted six double-doubles.
 
Harper played in 18 games in 2010-11, returning at Christmas from a knee injury suffered the previous year at UT Martin. The Detroit, Mich., native showed flashes of potential, including 10 points in 14 minutes against Freed-Hardeman and six rebounds in contests versus Martin Methodist and FHU.
 
Smith prepped at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro as a multi-sport athlete, earning All-District and All-Region honors in both basketball and soccer for the Blaze. The 6-foot-1 forward will add versatility and length to the front line for the Bulldogs.
 
Freshman Dayonna Johnson, another 6-1 forward from Detroit, Mich., adds depth and strength to the Bulldog front court.
 
FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY LIONS
HENDERSON, Tenn. - To say there are big shoes for the Freed-Hardeman Lady Lions to fill entering the new season would be an understatement.
 
After a season that saw 27 wins and a trip to the NAIA Fab Four, the Lady Lions must cope with the graduation of NAIA National Co-Player of the Year and National Tournament MVP Meribeth Boehler. Boehler led the nation in scoring last season with 23.6 points per game on her way to becoming the first player in FHU history to receive the association's highest honor. The Lady Lions also have to replace three-year starter at point guard, Whitney Johnson, who averaged 10.6 points per game while playing nearly 37 minutes per contest.
 
Freed-Hardeman, however, seems poised to continue the success that has brought the Lady Lions 15 consecutive 20-win seasons and 15 straight trip to the NAIA National Tournament under the leadership of head coach Dale Neal, who enters his 18th season with the program.
 
Leading the returning players is second-team All-American Natalie Shumpert. The junior guard averaged 15.9 points per game last season and was, along with Boehler, named to the all-national tournament team.
 
Also returning is junior Maria Bagwell, who started all 36 games last season and despite her size (5-foot-7) is a force on the glass, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game last season. The Hustle Award recipient at last year's national tournament, Bagwell has worked hard in the off-season to continue to improve her offensive game. Another junior, Summer Waggoner, returns to give FHU experienced depth in the post.
 
The team's lone senior, Hannah Parsley, saw her junior season cut short after an injury in December sidelined her. However, she will return to the floor in November where her long-range shooting and ability to feed the post will be an important cog in the FHU offense.
 
Sophomores Cynthia Woodward and Brittany Montgomery shared time at the three after Parsley's injury and gained valuable experience in the process. Woodward is a heady player who does important things that don't always show in the box score while Montgomery, who shot 49.1 percent from behind the arc as a freshman, provides FHU with another threat from long range.
 
Returnees Shelby Taylor, Karissa Dyer and Jenilee Pate will also vie for playing time. Taylor and Dyer saw limited action as freshmen while Pate took a medical redshirt.
 
A strong recruiting class means a deeper bench for the Lady Lions this season. Neal expects freshmen posts Grace Alonso de Armino (Bilbao, Spain; Knoxville West HS) and Hayley Newby (Knoxville, Tenn./Farragut HS) to be able to make an immediate impact. Both are physical and aggressive players who should fit well into FHU's system. Junior transfer Ashley Tate (Memphis, Tenn./Tennessee State Univ.) is expected to take over the duties at point guard where her quickness, ball-handling and defending will be a big asset.
 
Amber Alexander (Grand Blanc, Mich./Oakland Christian Academy) is another newcomer that could make a difference for FHU. A tall (5-foot-11) and athletic player, she has the ability to play on the blocks or in the mid-range and could create matchup problems for opponents on both ends of the floor. Layce Colter (Red Boiling Springs, Tenn./Red Boiling Springs HS), who scored over 2000 points in high school, adds another long-range shooting threat to the Lady Lions' offense.
 
The freshman class also features a trio of high school teammates in Lacrisha Baugus, Chynna Helton and Kenley Crowell, who helped lead Lewis Co. HS to great success in their last two seasons there.
Freed-Hardeman will again play a challenging non-conference schedule highlighted by the Jackson Rotary Classic at Union (Tenn.) University in November.

LYON COLLEGE SCOTS
BATESVILLE, Ark. - Seventh-year Lyon Head Coach Tracy Stewart-Lange explained that the key for this team to be successful this season is that "numerous players must transition from ‘role player' to bigger numbers we can count on every night". Stewart-Lange is looking to a couple of her key players to step up to the challenge this season. She expects this year's team to be competitive every game especially on defense. "This team could be the best defensive team we have had here at Lyon," says Stewart-Lange.

The Scots look to a couple of their upper classmen to lead the team this season. These key players include Lauren Ramsey (North Little Rock, AR), who is a 6'0 senior forward. Ramsey received 2nd Team All-Conference last year. She tallied an average 13 ppg and 5.1 rpg last year. Junior Debbie Onukwube is also back to round out the forward position for the Scots. There is also junior Phagen Altom (Bald Knob, AR) who helped lead the team at the point guard position last year. The Scots are also looking to two of the teams outside shooters, junior Christine Smith and senior Erin Roush, to lead this group.

With a veteran team and few new additions this year's team should be strong competitors. If this group of girls stays healthy and if they peak at the right time their chances of being successful in the TranSouth are very good. According to Stewart-Lange, their game at Mid-Continent was a turning point; instead of folding they turned the season around."I think that left its mark and will be used in a positive way to keep us focused and hungry," said Coach Stewart-Lange.  

The Scots open the season on Friday November 4th against Ecclesia College at Becknell Gym. Tipoff is scheduled for 6p.m.


MARTIN METHODIST COLLEGE REDHAWKS
PULASKI, Tenn. - Martin Methodist College women's basketball is slated to begin their second year under head coach Jamy Bechler, coming off a 17-14 season and a sixth place finish in the TranSouth Athletic Conference. Bechler's squad features the three leading scorers from last season, which includes one of the top point guards in the league in Jessy Christopher.
 
Vee Young, a 2010-11 All-American, and Micah Anderson both return for MMC down low, as Christopher will look to again run an offense that ranked her second in the NAIA in assists per game. Young was voted as last year's TSAC Newcomer of the Year, and ranked in the NAIA's top ten in several categories, including points per game at 20.36. Anderson brings the knowledge of a four-year senior for the RedHawks, as she will play her final season in the TranSouth.
 
Bechler has spent the off-season bringing in new faces to compliment his returners, including two ju-co transfers in Erika Bullock and Keri O'Neal, and freshman point guard Charmika Franklin. MMC boasts seven returners that will provide bench depth for Bechler including Becca Smithson who averaged 20.8 minutes off the bench, and contributed 6.3 points per game.
 
MMC debuts at home this season, hosting Toccoa Falls Colleges on October 28 at 6pm at home.
 
To help you better preview the season, the sports information department from each TranSouth school provided a season preview that we have included below.
 
MID-CONTINENT UNIVERSITY COUGARS
MAYFIELD, Ky. - After the 2010-11 season, Mid-Continent University began searching for a permanent coach for its women's basketball program. They did not have to look far to find their man.
 
Ryan Smith begins his first season as the team's head coach in 2011-12, joining the program after playing for the Mid-Continent and coaching for two years under Winston Bennett. This experience, Smith believes, will help him create a Culture of Success in a program that has struggled since its inception.
 
"During any coaching change, every player becomes a freshman," Smith noted. "Each player is learning a new system and learning what the new coach wants. Changing, or in our case, creating culture, is incredibly difficult during this change, but our staff and team has come to practice every day with an incredible outlook and attitude."
 
Smith took the first step in creating that Culture over the summer, bringing in K.C. Van Atta - a four year starter at Trevecca Nazarene University - who tallied 1,384 career points and helped lead the Trojans to three trips to the NAIA National Tournament. "Without question the best recruit we picked up this summer was a coach, K.C. Van Atta," Smith stated. "She is running our individual instruction, and the day to day operations of our program. Even though she lacks formal experience, she performs like a seasoned vet; she's been unbelievable, and we're lucky to have her."
 
While Smith sees the value in having leadership that has enjoyed success as a player - he himself was a part of the Mid-Continent men's team that won 24 games in 2009-10 - he also realizes that to change the culture is not an overnight endeavor.
 
"We have a couple of goals we think are within our reach this season," explained Smith. "We want to hold our opponents to under 38 percent shooting from the floor, and we want to qualify for the NCCAA tournament. The TranSouth is a brutally tough conference - we have three teams in the preseason NAIA top-10 - so it's a little unrealistic to think we can turn a one-win season last year into a conference title contender in such a strong league right away."
 
The Cougars return six players from last year's team, including two who averaged in double-figures offensively. Combine that experience with the talented corps of freshmen and transfer students that Smith and his staff have assembled, and the Cougars think they can show significant improvement on the floor this season.
 
Seniors
The Cougars have four seniors on the team, led by Shanice Martin, a point guard who led the team in assists and averaged 10 points per game as a junior. Heather George and Holli Daily were starters on the 2010-11 squad, with George posting the second highest rebound total a season ago and Daily averaging over 17 minutes per game. Nicki Dewitt - the team's fourth senior - contributed 5.5 points per game off the bench last season - the best total of any bench player who lasted the season.
 
"Even though transitions are difficult, and even the seniors have to adjust, you look to those leaders to help the younger players through it," said Smith. "These girls know how to come to the gym with the right attitude and work ethic, and it really has shown early on this fall."
 
Juniors
All three of the team's juniors are new to the program this season, having transferred in after completing successful careers at their respective junior colleges. Breona Houston is a strong and ferocious player who Smith says, "has the work ethic of a professional athlete." Chantiera Johnson is a talented play maker who can score from all over the floor and Smith believes she can be one of the league's best players.
 
Brittany Hood brings a high basketball IQ to the mix, and though she won't be available until after the first semester, she brings an element of versatility to the floor that makes her a valuable piece to the puzzle.
 
Sophomores
Stephanie Malone returns to the fold, after earning a spot on the TranSouth's All-Freshman team a year ago. Malone led the Cougars offensively, pouring in 14.3 points per game, and she was also the team's leading rebounder as a freshman - grabbing nearly eight boards a night. "She is probably the best athlete in the TranSouth," Smith opined, "She could legitimately be our best player at four different positions."
 
Ginger Gilbert is a smart player who has a knack for blocking shots - she had over 20 percent of the Cougars' blocked shots a year ago - and her grit and hard work has helped her improve her offensive skills over the summer.
 
Freshmen
Five freshmen join the Mid-Continent squad this year, and they bring a variety of talents to the mix. Jessica Kirby is the team's only center, and has really improved in the first few weeks thanks to a great deal of individual work with Van Atta. Asia Grigsby is a versatile guard who hails from Louisville - an area extremely rich in basketball talent - with a variety of skills. Kara Carneyhan is a great shooter who has worked hard on developing the other areas of her game in the preseason, while Dej'Asia Thorn and Octavia Wesley are hard workers who continue to get better every day.
 
Philosophy
Smith has several things he requires of his players, but his focus is not limited to on-court matters. "We require three things of our players to be on the team," he explained, "and four things we expect every day on the court. First and foremost, we want players and staff who do right for the right reasons, and who honor God with our thoughts and actions. Secondly, we must have players whose goal is to graduate and who stay on that track because they want to, not because we nag them. The third thing we require is coachability. We want players who want to learn something they didn't know on the floor, rather than focusing on what they already knew. Once they get on the floor, we expect four things every day: Attitude, Effort, Sportsmanship, and Execution."
 
The talent level of this year's Mid-Continent women's basketball team is higher than ever. With that in mind, the Cougars have the chance to begin turning the corner this season, which will help Smith begin to Change the Culture.
 
UNION UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
JACKSON, Tenn. - The Union University women's basketball enters the 2011-12 after falling just short of a third straight NAIA National Title in 2011. The Lady Bulldogs finished the 2010-11 season with an overall record of 35-2 and a TranSouth Conference record of 15-1. Union won the TranSouth regular season and tournament titles in the TranSouth, and advanced to the national title game.
 
Union lost three players, all starters, to graduation including Kayla Hudson, Sara Chan and Kayla Bryant. Hudson became Union's all-time assists leader started every game in her career at Union. Hudson and Chan were named NAIA All-Americans last season. Union head coach Mark Campbell will be looking to reload with seven newcomers to the program to go along with five returning players. Union returns one starter from last season in All-American Lavanda Ross.
 
Ross is the only senior on the Lady Bulldog roster. Ross has been named an All-American in head of her three seasons. She will be called upon to produce offense and leadership for the Lady Bulldogs this season.
 
The junior class is made up of three players including Rebecca Sharpe, Christina Coney and Mrashi Karumba. Sharpe played in 32 games last season at the guard position. Coney and Karumba are transfers into the program. They will provide depth and athleticism to the Union roster.
 
Union has four sophomores this year including Paige Parker, Mildred Olumasi, LaTesa McLaughlin and Shelby Ashcraft. McLaughlin saw a significant amount of playing time last year and was named to the second team all-conference. Parker and Olumasi will be expected to increase their contributions from last season as the two played in a combined 58 games. Ashcraft is a transfer who will step in and make and immediate impact on Union success in 2011-12.
 
The freshman class consists of four players beginning their college careers. Emily Sissom, Amy Philamlee, Astrid Hutteman and Adenike Dawodu. Hutterman spent last season as s red-shirt in the Union program and will be called on to provide and offensive punch right away. Sissom, Philamlee and Dawadu are all talented players that will have the chance to make a mark on Union women's basketball early in their careers.
 
Union's non-conference schedule may be the toughest NAIA schedule this season. Union will face 10 nationally ranked teams in their 14 non-conference contests, including St. Francis (Ill.), Cumberlands (Ky.), Oklahoma Baptist, Lee (Tenn.), St. Xavier (Ill.), Campbellsville (Ky.), Evangel (Mo.), Westminster (Utah), Maters's (Calif.) and Oklahoma City. Union also faces NCAA and SEC power Tennessee in an exhibition game. In the TranSouth, the Lady Bulldogs will have to go through NAIA powers Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) and Bethel (Tenn.) and other quality teams in order to repeat as conference champs.
 
Campbell, along with assistant coach Katie Woodruff and graduate assistants Kaitlin Dudley and Kayla Hudson, will work to get the returners and the large group of newcomers to mesh and continue the winning traditions of Union women's basketball. Union has been approved to begin the NCAA Division II membership process and is playing in their final season of NAIA competition.