FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University women’s basketball team will open its 2004-05 season with a mixture of experience and youth, and the challenge to improve on last year’s third-place finish in the Peach Belt Conference’s North Division.
FMU will take to the floor for the first time when its plays host to the Patriot Tip-Off Classic, Friday and Saturday (Nov. 19-20) at the Florence Civic Center. Francis Marion will face St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Friday at 6 p.m. and Fayetteville State University, Saturday at 6 p.m.
Admission to the classic, which consists of two men’s and two women’s games each day, is $5 for adults and $2 for students. Parking is free.
Third-year FMU head coach Valecia Tedder welcomes back six letterwinners, including three starters, from last season's 14-13 squad. Three of the team’s conference losses occurred when the Patriots had the final possession and could not convert on a tying or winning attempt. Six of the team’s losses were by single digits and eight were to squads that advanced to the NCAA II Tournament.
“We have an interesting mix with a group five juniors and seniors and seven freshmen,” Tedder explained. “I have seen improvement throughout the preseason, as we have learned and gotten better at both ends of the floor. The effort and intensity have been present, making for an enjoyable start to the season from my standpoint.
“With the addition of the new players, we have more speed and thus the ability to press. We will play a lot of people, maybe even using wholesale substitution patterns. This will allow us to give different looks, both offensively and defensively. I will mix and match the lineups, but we should have an aggressive attacking five on the floor at all times.”
Senior starters Jennifer Howard, a second-team academic All-American last season, and Michelle Ghere head the returnees, along with junior All-Conference candidate Danielle Moore. Both Howard (10.6 ppg, 2.7 apg) and Ghere (9.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) have improved their scoring and rebounding numbers in each of their first three seasons, and each has an outside shot of reaching the 1,000-point plateau in her final season.
“Jennifer and Michelle have been the foundation of our program that we started building two years ago,” said Tedder. “They are consistent in the games, and their knowledge of our system has been invaluable in the education process of our large freshmen class.”
Moore led FMU in scoring (12.4 ppg), field goal percentage (51.2%), blocked shots (37), and steals (51) in 2003-04. A slashing-style player, she will create match-up difficulties for teams trying to guard her with shorter perimeter players or slower post players.
Other returnees include senior 6-0 center Tasha Laster (0.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg), junior point guard Courtenay Etheredge (2.3 ppg, 2.2 apg), and sophomore 6-0 swing player Jennifer Dewell (4.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg). Laster was enjoying a successful 2004 preseason until an injury limited her playing time. “Tasha is a hard worker, and as the lone senior player in the post, she has been a leader,” Tedder said. “She always gives 100 percent in practice and we look forward to her getting back on the floor.” Etheredge has gained valuable experience directing the offense over the past two seasons, while Dewell showed improvement at the end of her red-shirt freshman campaign, averaging 9.0 ppg over her final six contests.
Two red-shirt freshman, guard Brittany Young (Moncks Corner) and swing player Creshenda Singletary (Johnsonville), join a large class of five true freshmen, all of whom stand 5-10 or taller. Both Young and Singletary are among Tedder’s probable starters for the Nov. 19 contest. “Brittany gives us speed and creativity. She can penetrate and dish, and with the host of outside shooters we have, she should record plenty of assists. Creshenda is very athletic and has the ability to play anywhere. She can block shots, rebound, and at the offensive end, can score inside or shoot the three.”
The true freshmen include 5-10 guard Renee Guilliams (Troutville, Va.), 5-11 post player Shonelle Downer (Columbia), 5-11 center Vanessa Goff (Columbia), 6-4 center Shavone Mack (Cross), and 5-10 post player Sienna Miller (Greenville).
At 6-4, Mack is the tallest female to ever wear a Patriot uniform, and her progress during the preseason has impressed Tedder. “She has the ability to create havoc all over the floor. Her offensive game will improve with experience, but she has proven that she can make an immediate impact.”
“Shonelle has long arms, is athletic, plays great defense, and goes to the boards hard. Vanessa is probably our best post-up player. She uses her size well. Sienna gives us depth along the frontline with another tall body, and she will improve as the season goes along. Renee gives us another pure outside shooter.”
“This season will be fun,” Tedder concluded. “Everyone is truly working hard, with no excuses being made. That competitiveness in practice has led to improvement, and that’s how I determine success.”
Francis Marion’s 28-game slate includes 12 home games. The Patriots have won 97 of their last 114 home contests in the Smith University Center. FMU will face an always-tough 16-game PBC schedule that will conclude with the Peach Belt Tournament, March 1-6 in Augusta, Ga.