Chris Griesedieck – Sports Writer |
When the Southern Conference released its pre-season coaches and media polls on Thursday, the Samford women’s basketball team was picked to finish fourth in the league.
Samford, coming off its second-straight SoCon Tournament title and NCAA tournament bid, received 178 points in the media poll and 72 points in the coaches’ poll.
Finishing ahead of the Bulldogs in the preseason are Appalachian State and Davidson, the SoCon’s regular season co-champions last year, as well as Chattanooga.
“If you have to have them, the preseason rankings are about right,” Samford head coach Mike Morris said.
“On paper, the three ahead of us are far and away the best, for whatever that’s worth. We have a lot of unknown, but that’s what will make it exciting.”
The Bulldogs returning starters are Hannah Dawson (7.3 ppg., 4.9 rpg.) and Taylor Reece (8.8 ppg., 3.1 rpg.).
The team also returns reserves Shelby Campbell (7.5 ppg., 2.9 rpg.), Jazmine Martin (4.5 ppg., 1.9 rpg.), Christy Robinson (2.0 ppg., 1.4 rpg.) and Kendall Schwantz (1.9 ppg., 1.4 rpg.).
Keke Fletcher also returns after sitting out last season and receiving a medical redshirt.
With the returning starters leading the way, Samford has an excellent chance at finishing in the top 4 of their division, with hopes of another SoCon tournament title and possibly an NCAA berth.
“In order to do that, we’re going to have players step up and play bigger roles,” Morris said. “We have a very solid nucleus back from last year.”
The returning starters are going to be stepping up and contributing, setting high expectations for themselves and the team.
“I’m having to change my expectations with it being my senior year and with being a vocal leader on the floor,” Dawson said. “Our team definitely needs that vocal leader.”
Reece, Dawson and Campbell are all looking forward to the season. “I’m excited to see how we grow as a team,” Campbell said.
The new members of this year’s team include Amara Mayers, a sophomore transfer from Belmont, and true freshmen Krista Stricklin, Lydia McGee, Ashli Mayes and Rebecca Webster.
“We’ll be counting on the freshmen to step up and help us,” Morris said.
Reece, Dawson and Campbell hope to carry over individual and team success from last year.
“Coach Morris talked about how we have to make our own legacy,” Reece said. “The younger players will bring a lot of energy.”
The Bulldogs begin the 2012-13 season on Nov. 11, when the team travels to Tallahassee, Fla., to take on the Florida State Seminoles.
Samford does have one exhibition game prior to the regular-season opener, as the Bulldogs host Montevallo in an exhibition on Nov. 5 at the Pete Hanna Center.
Nonconference games for the Lady Bulldogs will include trips to Auburn, Clemson and Oregon.
“Oregon is going to be really different,” Morris said. “Not only is it a completely different part of the country, but Oregon’s playing style is different. It’s a very challenging pre-season.”
The SoCon season opens up for the ‘Dogs on Dec. 1 with a home game against Wofford and kicks into full gear on Jan. 5.
The challenge of defending a second straight title with a significantly younger team awaits.
“Since we had four players graduate, it’s going to be hard work but it’s totally do-able,” Dawson said.