Lady Eagles open 2010-11 season on Saturday in Division II Tipoff Classic
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The fire is already lit for the 2010-11 Carson-Newman Women's Basketball team. With a strong core group of returning players, the Lady Eagles are still angry at the way they exited last season's NCAA Division II Tournament, a 27-point loss to Lander University.
"We have a chip on our shoulder," senior guard Mandy Mendenhall (Kingston Springs, Tenn.) said. "We want the chance to go farther than we did last year."
Head coach Dean Walsh, in his 10th season at Carson-Newman, recognizes the determination in his players to do something special this season.
"We were 24-7 last year and they feel like we were 7-24 because of the way we lost to Lander," Walsh said. "We feel like the program has gotten to the point where we're not going to be satisfied with just getting to the national tournament. Our goal is the win the regular season and conference tournament title."
The Lady Eagles begin their quest toward another NCAA Tournament run on Saturday in the Division II Tipoff Classic at Lander. C-N will face USC Aiken on Saturday at 5 p.m. before playing No. 4 Lander on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
"It's going to be tough," Walsh said of the Tipoff Classic. "Aiken returns a good part of their team. They are very solid and very well coached. Obviously, Lander is ranked fourth in the nation and returns everybody after handling us in the national tournament last season. We have our work cut out for us this opening weekend."
Walsh first job this offseason was to replace two of his best players, guard Ashley Kyle and post player Shari Buford. Kyle averaged almost 14 points a game last season. Buford averaged a double-double, getting 10.4 rebounds and 12.8 points a night. Buford may be the hardest loss to overcome, but Walsh has a talented freshman in 6-0 post Shannon Depew (Newport, Tenn.) coming in to take over for the five position.
"You have to replace somebody every year," Walsh said. "She (Buford) was a rebounding fool and had a knack to know where the ball was. Collectively our post play can get it done. I think they can cover up what we lost with Shari."
"There are some high expectations with Shannon. They are probably higher expectations placed on her than need to be, but you have an inside-outside player that can even play the three for us. She's looked good."
Replacing Kyle should be easier with Carson-Newman boasting a roster full of talent at the guard position.
Freshman Rechelle Dye (Greeneville, Tenn.) round out the guards.
"If we stay healthy, we're going to be really good," Walsh said. "This is the deepest our guard play has been. Physically, we're in better shape than we've ever been in."
Mendenhall alone has spent the offseason adding muscle. This is her last chance to make a run at a SAC and national title and she's leaving nothing to chance.
"It's something I worked harder on this year," Mendenhall said. "It's my senior year and I have to go all out."
Walsh has seen the results already on the practice floor. Not only in Mendenhall's own play, but how she's stepping up as a team leader.
"Mandy's on a mission," Walsh said. "She's added a lot of strength and this is the best shape she's ever been in. She's shooting the ball well and taking it to the rim when she needs to. Mandy has the potential to be a scary threat and she proved it last year. Consistency from her is what we need to be successful."
Junior forward Zoriah Williams (Calera, Ala.) returns to the floor this season after missing the end of last year with a torn ACL. Williams was banged up all season even before the injury, but still managed to average almost nine points a game. Though Williams is technically a starter, she begins each game on the bench letting her nerves calm while she gets into the flow.
"I'd rather come off the bench so I can get a feel for the game," Williams said. "My nerves are super high and it helps me."
Williams has fought to rehab her knee and prepare for the season.
"It's been rough," Williams said. "I stayed over the summer to get stronger and get back for the season. I think it's paid off. I think once I get in the swing of things again it'll all come together."
Williams is joined at the forward position by Depew along with returning sophomores Dominique Jackson (North Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Whitney Moody (Blountville, Tenn.) and Courdne Miles (Burlington, N.C.).
The Lady Eagles have made it through a murderer's row of top 15 Division I opponents in the preseason to prepare for the regular season, including No. 4 Tennessee, No. 6 Duke and No. 15 North Carolina.
"We are glad it's over," Walsh said. "Boot camp is finished, and now it's time to get ready for what really counts. Only time will tell how much of a positive effect these three exhibitions have had for us. I know they are ready to play Division II opponents."