FLORENCE, S.C. – An old coaching cliché says “The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.” Francis Marion University women’s basketball coach Valecia Tedder agrees with that statement as her 2005-06 squad prepares for the upcoming season with seven returning sophomores, five of whom started games last season.
Overall, Tedder welcomes back nine letterwinners, including four starters, from last year’s 11-17 team that tied for fourth in the Peach Belt Conference’s North Division.
FMU will take to the floor for the first time when the Patriots play at Presbyterian College, Tuesday at 6 p.m. Francis Marion will then play host to the Zaxby’s Patriot Clazzic, Friday and Saturday (Nov. 18-19) in the Smith University Center. The Patriots will face Coker College, Friday at 6 p.m., and Fayetteville State University, Saturday at 6 p.m.
Despite last year’s sub-.500 record, the Patriots were in the hunt for the division title up until the final week of the regular season. Eight of the team’s losses were by single digits, and seven defeats were to teams that earned invitations to the NCAA Division II national tournament.
“With all the experience our young players gained last year, I feel that we are in a better position entering this season,” Tedder said. “The players have more confidence, and with our new additions, I look for us to be improved, especially on defense.”
Senior Danielle Moore (11.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 2004-05) leads the returnees. The 6-0 swing player ranks 28th on the Patriot career scoring list with 850 points and is tied for seventh with 75 career blocked shots. Sophomore forward Creshenda Singletary (12.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) looks to improve on her first year that saw her earn All-PBC and conference "Freshman of the Year" recognition, while sophomore point guard Brittany Young (8.3 ppg, 5.3 assists per game) is back to direct the Patriot offense.
“Moore has continued to step up her game,” Tedder said. “She averaged 17.5 ppg over the final five games last season, and she has been very consistent during this preseason. She has worked on both her inside and outside game, and looks poised to make a run at the All-Conference team.”
“Singletary can only get better, even after her award-filled freshman campaign. She is very athletic, and has developed her game into a more rounded attack. She has worked on penetrating to the goal, and she may also see playing time at the shooting-guard spot.”
“Young was our most valuable player last year,” Tedder pointed out. “She always makes things happen. With the experience she gained last year (she was 14th in the PBC in minutes played), her decision making should be even better on when to take advantage of good opportunities, and that will elevate her assists-to-turnover ratio.” Young was second in the Peach Belt in assists per game last year, and ranked 20th nationally.
Led by a trio of freshman post players – Shonelle Downer, Vanessa Goff, and Shavone Mack – FMU ranked second in the PBC in blocked shots last year, as FMU swatted five or more shots in 18 of 28 games a year ago. The three combined for 7.2 ppg and 11.6 rpg in 2004-05. Tedder would like the scoring numbers to double this season. “If we can get a combined 15 points from this group that would be adequate. Their blocks were a big part of our defense last season, as we held opponents to only 36.8 percent shooting, but we need to grab a few more defensive rebounds this year as we allowed opponents nearly 17 offensive rebounds a game last year.”
Senior point guard Courtenay Etheredge (1.0 ppg), sophomore guard Renee Guilliams (0.6 ppg), and sophomore forward Sienna Gandy-Miller (0.5 ppg) also return. Tedder has been excited about Guilliams’ play during the 2005 preseason and points to her as a possible starter. “She is much improved over last season, and with her long-range shooting, she has the ability to expand an opponent’s defense.”
The team’s newcomers include junior college transfer Shaketa Preal (5-7 guard) and freshmen Katie Kiefer (5-10 forward) and Kirby Marsh (5-6 guard). Tedder called Preal the team’s “defensive stopper.” “She possesses great defensive skills and will defend the opponent’s top backcourt player. Kiefer is a very smart and versatile player. She used her size and strength to her advantage, both inside and outside.” In the team’s recent exhibition game, Keifer shared the team scoring lead with 16 points, including several three-pointers and some strong post moves. “Marsh will be a nice compliment to our backcourt,” Tedder added. “She has a good shot, anticipates well, plays good defense, and once she gains some experience directing our offense will be a dangerous player.”
The Patriots’ schedule for 2005-06 features 26 regular-season games, including 14 home contests.
FMU was picked to finished eighth in the preseason PBC coaches’ poll.
The Peach Belt will have a new look in 2005-06 with the departure of Kennesaw State University and the University of North Florida to the Division I ranks and the addition of North Georgia College & State University. North Georgia, which is beginning its transition from the NAIA, will compete in the PBC regular-season schedule, but not in the conference tournament. The league has also done away with divisional play and will feature a 20-game conference schedule leading up to the PBC Tournament hosted by Lander University in March 2006.
Tedder added, “I am looking forward to the new PBC schedule. With everyone playing each other home and away, the standings should be more representative of the strength of each team. It will give us a chance to adapt to our opponents, after facing them once. That in turn should help us reach one of our main goals – making the NCAA national tournament.”