FLORENCE, S.C. – With four returning starters from a Sweet Sixteen squad and a team that led the nation in scoring each of the past two years, the Francis Marion University women’s basketball team has adopted the slogan “Feel the Heat” for the 2009-10 campaign that begins on Nov. 15.
The Patriots will open at home on Sunday with a 2 p.m. contest against Converse College. The Valkyries, 6-22 last season, are coached by 2004 FMU graduate and former Patriot Joanna Tincher, now in her second season in Spartanburg.
Francis Marion, 27-5 last season, just missed out on earning a preseason national ranking by one point in the USA Today/ESPN Division II Top 25 Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Patriots ended last season ranked 14th nationally after winning their second consecutive Peach Belt Conference regular-season championship and making a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
“This is the deepest, most talented team I have had in my time at Francis Marion,” said third-year FMU head coach Heather Macy. “By far, this is the best defensive squad we have assembled – having improved through all five positions. We are also better at rebounding. With all the new faces trying to mesh together, we are still working on the offensive part of the game, but that explosion will happen at some point in the season once everyone becomes ingrained in our system.”
The returning starters include 5-10 junior guard Robin Colbert (6.4 points per game 4.9 rebounds per game 3.2 assists per game), 5-8 senior guard Shana Franks (12.8 ppg), 6-0 junior center Danelle Downs (4.2 ppg 4.1 rpg), and 5-10 junior swing player Shannon Singleton-Bates (13.0 ppg 5.1 rpg). Singleton-Bates was an All-Conference and honorable-mention All-American selection last year.
Also returning is 5-5 senior guard Eboni Fields who came off the bench last year to average 9.9 ppg and connected on 35.8 percent of her three-point attempts.
Macy gains the services of two players, 5-10 guard-forward Dawn Coleman and 5-8 freshman guard Ana Imani, who redshirted last season at FMU. Coleman transferred from Old Dominion University in 2008.
Seven new faces join the Patriot roster: 5-10 senior forward Nicole Mealing (transfer from Augusta State University), 5-10 senior forward Precious Tucker (High Point University), 5-6 senior guard Tiffany Wilson (Monroe Community College), 5-5 junior guard Monica Mann (Georgia State University), 5-10 sophomore forward Simone Trice (Georgia Tech), and 5-8 freshmen guards Courtney Mealing (Strom Thurmond High School) and Kristen Dickerson (Heathwood Hall Episcopal School).
The Mealings are sisters, and Nicole averaged 14 ppg and 6.9 rpg last season at ASU, including a 28-point, 22-rebound game in a 93-90 loss to Francis Marion last January. Courtney Mealing was named the 2009 South Carolina Class AA Player of the Year after averaging 29.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 4.2 steals per game.
“I have been very pleased with the leadership of our returnees, especially Robin, who attended an NCAA Leadership Conference last summer. Players have been coaching players as seven newcomers are on the roster. However, as we get ready to tip it off, the new players must jump in and perform.”
“Shannon has picked up where she left off last season, and is in the best physical shape of her career. She is more comfortable in the ‘go-to’ player role.” Her modest scoring average (13 ppg) led a very balanced scoring attack last season that saw six players average between 9.9 and 13 ppg.
“The new players have embraced our philosophy. Dawn can score and rebound, and once she gets in the flow after basically missing two seasons, I expect good things from her. I love the way Courtney and Nicole have shot the ball in the preseason. Simone and Precious have both been animals on the boards. Monica is an exciting addition at the point. After rehabbing from an ACL injury, she will get her first game action in the opener on Sunday.”
“We have never been picked to win the Peach Belt in my three seasons, but we hope to again surprise folks and challenge for the title. We have beefed up our non-conference schedule, including the two road exhibitions we played at UNC (loss) and Winthrop (win). It is also nice to open the regular season with seven straight home games.” The Patriots, 14-1 at home last season, have won 143 of their last 182 home contests in the Smith University Center.
“We are very excited to get to play in the Carolina’s Challenge at Myrtle Beach on December 20, and appear on the same bill as UNC, USC, and Coastal Carolina.”
In leading Division II in scoring offense last year, the Patriots averaged 88.1 ppg and FMU eclipsed the 100-point mark eight times. FMU also led the nation in steals per game (19.4) for the second consecutive year. The Patriots recorded their 21st 20-win season in the team’s 35-year history.
Francis Marion ranks as the eighth winningest program in Division II with 723 victories and is 24th in all-time winning percentage. The Patriots have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in seven of the past 13 seasons.