JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Prior to the start of the 2015-16 Carson-Newman women's basketball season, a two-part series will look at the Lady Eagles position groups. The first-part of this series will focus on the backcourt with junior guard Kailyn Brooks (Lafayette, Tenn.).
The guard position returns every player from the 2014-15 group with the exception of reserve point guard Lacy Miller who averaged 4.1 points and three assists per game last season. ACL injuries to Miller and senior guard Jai Jai McLaughlin (Knoxville, Tenn.) forced Brooks into point guard duties to end last season.
Brooks started the last 12 games of the year at point guard while averaging 9.5 points and 3.8 assists per game in that span. She was one of the five players on the roster to participate in all 30 games last season and led the team with 81 assists. The junior notched 14 double-digit scoring nights and had 13 games with three or more assists. The Lafayette, Tenn. native had her first career double-double against Lincoln Memorial on February 25 where she had 14 points and 10 assists.
"It gave me a lot of confidence and a lot of experience last year being thrown into the position after their injuries," Brooks said. "I think I grew a lot from it. I took that into the offseason and I've been working on it that those things help me a lot to grow so I'm excited about the season."
The injuries took a toll on the team's ability to press. Carson-Newman began the season 11-0 thanks to the ability to force 18.4 turnovers per game in the opening stretch. The press was nearly nonexistent after the injuries and with improved health this season the Lady Eagles hop to get back to that style.
"I think having our legs back under us is going to be really significant this season," Brooks said. "I think had we been healthy last season, if we continued pressing because we are a pressing team; we are playing at our highest potential when we are able to lay it on people like that."
Returning to power the backcourt are two of the most decorated players in recent memory in McLaughlin and senior Tatum Burstrom (Maryville, Tenn.). McLaughlin is a preseason second-team all-South Atlantic Conference pick while Burstom is on the first-team.
"Jai Jai has always been the vocal, outspoken leader," Brooks said. "She is always keeping us in-line. We are all really appreciative of that. Tatum has always been the unspoken leader. Her actions speak louder than words sometimes. They're both really big for our team so we all look up to them a lot."
Burstrom will become the 17th Lady Eagle to eclipse 1,000 points in her career early in the season as she enters the year 83 points of that mark. Her 190 made three-pointers are second on the program's all-time list and 32 shy of tying her former assistant coach, Ashley Tipton. The senior led the roster in by averaging 28.3 minutes per game and 10.1 points per night while finishing second with 72 assists.
McLaughlin has not started just one time in her 73 games played in the orange and blue despite missing the final 14 contests of her junior year. Over her first three seasons, the Knoxville, Tenn. native has averaged 7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and four assists per game. McLaughlin is eighth on the all-time list for career assists with 292 entering the season.
Outside of the top-three, a pair of upperclassmen and four newcomers join the fray. Senior Kianna Sedlacek (Cardinton, Ohio) and junior Carly Pippin (Sevierville, Tenn.) have played sparingly in their careers. Sedlacek has played a total of 25 games in her career while Pippin has seen time in 34 contests. Against Brevard on February 11, Pippin had career-highs with nine points and eight rebounds.
Kayla Newman (Alcoa, Tenn.) redshirted last season after being the District 4-AA Most Valuable Player as a senior while piling up 1,048 points, 696 rebounds and 393 assists during her time at Alcoa High School.
"Just trying to get them into games and get them to understand it's a different level, physically," Brooks said. "They have to keep their heads up learning how to play through those things. Do your job on the floor and not trying to do too much."
Miniat scored 1,311 points and 645 rebounds during her career at Harpeth High School. Smith tallied over 1,500 points during her four years at Martin Luther King Jr. High School while leading the program to its first TSSAA Division I Class AA state title. Wykle, a sharpshooter from South Greene High School, scored 1,445 points as a Rebel.
Carson-Newman begins its season with an exhibition contest at Thompson-Boling Arena against the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers on November 9. The opening tip-off is set for 7 p.m. with broadcast coverage beginning 15 minutes prior to the opening tip on the Eagle Sports Network's flagship station Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.