The Francis Marion University women’s basketball team, under the direction of first-year head coach Valecia Tedder, opens its 2002-03 season by hosting the FMU/Sleep Inn Classic, Friday and Saturday (Nov. 22-23).
The Patriots will host Anderson College in Friday’s nightcap at 7 p.m. The opening contest at 5 p.m. pits Armstrong Atlantic State University against Pfeiffer University. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for students.
FMU and AASU will swap opponents on Saturday afternoon with AASU meeting Anderson at 2 p.m. and FMU playing Pfeiffer at 4 p.m.
Tedder, who served as a Patriot assistant for two seasons (1995-97) before moving on to a Division I assistant’s position, welcomes back six letterwinners from last season's 16-11 squad. However, only one of those six has started more than one collegiate contest, and the remainder of the 14-player roster includes six freshmen. Two other team members are transfers that are new to the Patriot system.
“This will be one large learning experience – new coach and new players,” Tedder admitted. “The bright aspect is that the entire squad realizes how young and inexperienced it is, and everyone is open to our teaching. This is a very coachable group, and that period of learning may continue throughout the 2002-03 season.
“An example of this occurred in our exhibition game at the College of Charleston. We came out and were very intimidated in the opening half, and the scoreboard showed it. But in the second half, they regrouped, played hard, and improved, so that the score in the final 20 minutes was nearly even.”
“The one aspect that we work on every day is intensity. Without a large group of experienced upperclassmen to instill that in new players, we must focus on it daily. All other facets of my gameplan, defense and offense, are a direct result of intensity. If we can stay positive, absorb some early hits, we can be a good basketball team. As it is with all young squads, positive reinforcement is also key to our improvement. It is also fortunate that we open with six consecutive home games.”
Last season was the first time in six years the Patriots missed earning an invitation to the NCAA national tournament. The lone returning starter is 6-0 senior center Jontell Johnson, who averaged 10.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last year. In addition to her scoring and board work, the Charleston native needs only six blocked shots to break the Peach Belt Conference career mark of 169, and currently stands third on the FMU career list. “Jontell has taken on the responsibility of being the only senior, and has been a positive role model for the younger players,” Tedder said.
Four of the freshmen are 6-0 or taller, and the transfers include 5-11 Erin Torpey (North Idaho College) and 6-2 Marta Losonczy (Charleston Southern University). The other returnees include 5-10 junior center Joanna Tincher (2.2 ppg), 5-11 sophomore wing player Michelle Ghere (4.3 ppg), 6-0 sophomore center Tasha Laster (1.6 ppg), and sophomore guards Jennifer Howard (3.2 ppg) and Rnesha Baldwin (1.7 ppg).
The newcomers include 5-5 guards Courtenay Etheredge (Lexington, S.C.) and Nikki Jerome (Cranberry Township Pa.), 6-0 wing player Danielle Moore (Owings Mills, Md.), 6-1 forward Vaughn Bowen (Westminster, S.C.), and 6-0 frontline players Jennifer Dewell (Sugar Grove, Va.) and Renata Raymond (Houma, La.). Dewell, however, suffered a knee injury in the exhibition with the College of Charleston and may be facing season-ending surgery.
Tedder’s probable starting lineup for the opener will include Johnson, Baldwin, Ghere, Howard, and Tincher, but she expressed excitement about the preseason play of all her freshmen, in particular Jerome, Etheredge, Moore, and Bowen. “Depending on our starting lineup, these four would be the first players off our bench. Both Nikki and Courtenay can handle and distribute the ball from the point guard spot. Nikki is the better shooter, but Courtenay is quicker and more aggressive. At 6-0, Danielle creates match-up problems for smaller wing players. She has long arms, attacks the boards, and is a ‘slasher’ on offense who also possesses a nice jump shot. Vaughn can post up and knock down the 15-foot jump shot.”
Concerning the returnees, Tedder said game experience and confidence are the two keys. “Because they didn’t log many minutes, outside of Jontell, the returnees just need to experience the feel of playing and having to score and defend. Rnesha, Michelle, and Joanna all have the potential to be good scorers, but must rediscover that aspect of their game. Jennifer must learn to be the floor general that is the point guard spot, and only game action can develop that.”
The Patriots have won 81 of their last 90 home contests. Eight of the team's 11 losses in 2001-02 were by seven points or less, with two coming in overtime.
Tedder becomes the ninth head coach in the storied 29-year history of the Francis Marion program, and the first female to head the program in 12 years. In her initial stay at Francis Marion, Tedder was an assistant coach on Wes Moore’s staff for two seasons. During those two years, FMU posted a 39-17 mark, recorded a pair of second-place finishes in the Peach Belt Conference, and earned the program’s first NCAA Division II national tournament invitation in 1997. She was instrumental in recruiting several of the players that formed the core of the 1998 FMU squad that advanced to the NCAA Division II Final Four and then made three subsequent Sweet 16 appearances.
Francis Marion’s 2002-03 slate includes 13 home contests, a pair of in-season classics, and the always-tough 19-game Peach Belt Conference slate. The Patriots were picked to finish ninth in the preseason PBC coaches’ poll. The 2003 Peach Belt Tournament will be hosted by Columbus State University on March 4, 6, 8 and 9.