FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University women’s basketball team will open its 2011-12 season on Friday evening (Nov. 18) against Lenoir-Rhyne University in the Biltmore Farms/Mars Hill Classic. The contest will tip-off at 8 p.m. in Mars Hill College’s 2,800-seat Stanford Arena.
FMU leads the all-time series with Lenior-Rhyne 4-1, including a 93-74 victory in Hickory, N.C., in the 2009 NCAA Tournament’s round of 32. Francis Marion is 27-11 in all-time season openers, and the Patriots have won 29 of their last 31 regular-season match-ups with non-conference opponents.
The Patriots will meet the host Lions on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. to conclude the classic.
Second-year FMU head coach Kate Glusko welcomes back six letterwinners, including two starters, from last year’s 18-10 squad that finished third in the Peach Belt Conference’s East Division and earned its fourth consecutive invitation to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
However, Glusko must replace departed swing player Shannon Singleton-Bates (19.6 ppg) who finished her career as the seventh-highest scorer in FMU history, and sixth-highest in the PBC, with 1,743 points.
The two returning starters are along the FMU frontline: 5-10 senior forward Simone Trice (6.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and 5-11 senior forward T.T. Belcher (5.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
Francis Marion also returns four players in the backcourt: 5-8 junior guards Kristen Dickerson (2.2 ppg), Jasmine Williams-Hayes (2.0 ppg) and Ana Imani (0.3 ppg) and 5-7 sophomore guard Brittany Christian (4.4 ppg). Of the four, Christian saw the most playing time in 2010-11, including five starts. She also connected on 34.5 percent of her three-point attempts as the Patriots led the conference in three-point shooting last season at 35 percent.
Six transfers, including three with NCAA Division I experience, join one red-shirt freshman as newcomers on the 2011-12 roster. The transfers include 5-7 senior guard Tiara Gause (Elon University), 6-0 senior forward Danielle Gibson (Charleston Southern University), 5-11 junior forward Daphne Walker (Daytona State College), 5-8 junior guard Carmella Thompson (Northern Oklahoma College), and 5-8 sophomore guard Emilee Dunton (Longwood University).
Red-shirt freshman Chelsey Johnson, a 5-8 guard who hails from Riverside High School and Greer, S.C., also joins the Patriot roster.
“We are ready and anxious to tip it off,” said Glusko. “We open against two very good opponents in L-R and Mars Hill, so we will see where we stand very quickly.
“This year’s group wants to learn and do well. We have brought in players who believe in our system and have the desire to be successful.
“Our biggest asset this year will be our depth. We can go 10-to-11 players deep. They have all worked hard in the pre-season and the pieces are finally starting to fall into place. This group will be a more balanced squad where everyone must ‘show up’ each game and contribute – a blue-collar approach.
“We hope to play at a faster pace this year, and the depth aids in that area. We also want to create offense with our defense.” FMU is 63-5 in its last 68 games when scoring 85 points or more (over 11 seasons).
Playing behind Trice and Belcher in the frontcourt will be Walker and Gibson. Both add immediate college experience to the roster. “Daphne possesses an excellent offensive game, runs the floor well, and can score in a variety of ways. Danielle gives us an added rebounding presence, can also run the floor well, and owns good back-to-the-basket offensive moves. Our depth at the post is the area I am most excited about.”
Glusko pointed to Thompson as her starting point guard. “Carmella is a true point player with lots of athleticism and a very high basketball IQ. She is great at creating shots for her teammates.”
Christian and Dunton will see minutes at the shooting guard spot, with Dunton also acting as the back-up at the point. “Brittany had a great off season. She is better, stronger, and more confident heading into the 2011-12 campaign, and has improved her ability to score off the dribble. Emilee also has a high IQ for the game, can shoot the three, and when she moves to the point will give us a different look.”
Gause was to have been the starter at the three-guard position, but an injury during the pre-season has put her status for the year in question. “Hattie Harris and Chelsey Johnson will now look to fill in this spot,” Glusko added. “Hattie is long, athletic, a good rebounder and defender, and she can get to the rim. Chelsey is still improving, but is extremely athletic – a slasher-type player – and can play great defense.”
Francis Marion will play at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C. on Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m., before hosting three consecutive home contests: Nov. 23 against Voorhees College at 4:00, Nov. 30 against Lander University at 5:30, and Dec. 3 against Augusta State University at 1:30 p.m.
The Patriots were picked to finish fifth in the Peach Belt’s annual pre-season coaches’ poll.
FMU has twenty-two 20-win seasons in the team’s 38-year history, and the Patriots rank among the Top 10 Division II programs in all-time victories. Francis Marion was 8-3 at home last season, 37-5 over the last three years, and has won 166 of its last 209 home contests in the Smith University Center.