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Lady Bisons ready for a fresh start in 2006-2007

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oct. 26, 2006

Last season Frank Bennett often sounded more like a medical doctor than the head coach of the Lady Bisons basketball team.

Injuries and illnesses were both chronic problems for the squad all season long, contributing to a 6-21 record overall and a 5-15 finish in the Atlantic Sun Conference. After making two appearances in postseason play, including an A-Sun Tournament Championship and an NCAA berth in 2004 the Lady Bisons did not make the trip to Dothan, Ala., for the conference tournament.

It was the worst season in terms of losses for Bennett, who is starting his 27th season as head coach of the Lady Bisons.

"We are at the bottom and we are moving up," said Bennett. "We are trying to instill a positive environment and a winning attitude. When you have a difficult year like we had it is easy to follow bad habits. We want to rebuild a passion for the game. We have a lot of determination to have a better season.

"We don't have any superstars on our team. It is a matter of team over self. We have to decide who is a 3-point shooter and then try to get that player open for her shot. We have to see who is good at posting and get them involved in the low post. We want the players that are good at driving to get in situations where they can drive to the basket. It is a matter of learning roles and being unselfish."

The Lady Bisons were picked to finish eighth in a preseason poll of the A-Sun coaches and seventh by the media.

"It was a little surprised we were picked as high as we were because of the season we had last year," said Bennett. "The A-Sun poll has never correctly predicted the champion in the league. We feel like we have a great chance to be competitive and to finish much higher in the league this year."

Bennett has 13 players returning from last season, but that number quickly proved to be unlucky as junior forward Kaleigh Grossman will miss the season due to surgery to correct an injury sustained in preseason workouts. Ten of those returning players started at least one college game.

"We have emphasized individual responsibility," said Bennett. "Our slogan is "If it is meant to be it is up to me.' Each player can pick up her play a little bit. We have some experience and we want to try to put it to work. Each player has to do her job.

"We are also emphasizing internal leadership. We only have two seniors, but we have four fourth-year juniors. We have seen some really good signs. The players decided on their own to take a ropes course for team-building and team bonding. Our players have to be the kind of players their teammates can rely on off and on t he court. It is all about accountability."

NOT SO NEWCOMERS

Two medical red-shirts from last season return this year _ junior forward Julie Martin and sophomore Rachel Davis.

"Julie started a good bit her first two years," said Bennett. "She has been a leader on the team. She is a good defender. She is just a good solid player you can count on in a game."

"Rachel will play the No. 4 position for us," said Bennett. "She is a real good offensive player. She has the ability to score for us. We are working on her defense."

Another red-shirt making her first appearance in a Lady Bisons uniform will be Tiffany Arnold, who transferred from the University of Tennessee-Martin and sat out last season. She was allowed to practice with the team, and her performances in practice have made Bennett extremely optimistic about her expected contributions to the team this season.

"Tiffany gives us quickness and strength," said Bennett. "She is the kind of player who is a good slasher to the basket. She can drive or curl cut to the basket. She can post up some. She had a good medium range jumper. We think she can also be a good shut-down defender for us at the No. 3 and No. 4 positions for us She can do a lot of the things we are a little bit weak in."

Toia McGowan, a point guard from Davenport, Iowa., is the only freshman on the 2006-2007 team.

"Toia gives us some quickness and athletic ability at the guard position," said Bennett. "She averaged 15 points a game in high school. She can penetrate for a shot and pull up. She has a good 3-point shooting stroke as well. She can also defend. She has long arms.

ON THE PERIMETER

Junior Catie Woods will once again direct the team at point guard.

"Catie is really playing well," said Bennett. "Last year she missed the last seven games of the season. She is in great shape. She is a solid point guard. She is one of our best 3-point shooters and one of our best defenders. She can take care of the ball. We're glad to have her back. She averaged 30 minutes a game the past two years. She makes a big difference for us."

Junior Katie Foster and McGowan will also be vying for playing time at the point.

"Katie is fairly quick," said Bennett. "She is a smart player. She is a pretty good outside shooter."

Dana Carrigan is the top returning scorer from last season with an average of 9.1 points per game. She is primarily a No. 2 guard, but she also played the point last season when she was needed. She also led the team in assists with 94.

"Dana is playing very confidently in her third season," said Bennett. "She is a good long range shooter. She knows the system."

Senior Keirstin Head will be at the No. 3 spot.

"Keirstin had some good games last year," said Bennett. "She is getting into on-the-ball defense. She is a pure shooter. She has worked a lot on her shooting. She is much more consistent."

Sophomore Jilian Partin was one of the top players early in the season. Bennett is hoping she will return to form.

"Jilian is a good long range shooter and is pretty strong taking the ball to the basket.," said Bennett. "She also is pretty good offensive rebounder. We are looking for her to get better defensively."

THE LOWDOWN DOWN LOW

Katie Beth Pate closed out her career in the post position this past season and is serving as a student assistant coach. She holds the record for blocked shots in the Atlantic Sun Conference and shattered every school record in that category.

"She was also a defensive force and a rebounding force," said Bennett. "She also had around 1,000 points in her career."

Miriam McAlister, a member of the A-Sun All-Freshman team and the second returning scorer (8.7 ppg), is making the move from the No. 3 forward spot to No. 4.

"We want to move Miriam a little more inside," said Bennett. "She is one of our best posters. She is probably our strongest player in being able to post up and take the ball strong to the basket. She is a very versatile player. She will be a hard match-up."

Senior Penny Jones will still be playing the post, but her role will change in an effort to make the best use of her talents.

"We are going to let her use her strength as a runner," said Bennett. "She can run all day long. She is a post player who can really run the floor. We are not going to keep her just at the low post. We are going to move her in and out. She can score some low, but she is a good 3-point shooter and she has both a left and right hook. We feel like Penny is going to be a different player for us."

Sophomore Katie Rollins has moved from the No. 4 to the No. 5 position.

"She is another versatile player," said Bennett. "She hit 50 percent of her 3-point shots last season which was the highest on the team. She is a lot like Penny. She can post up, but she can also go outside and shoot the 3-point shot."

Sophomore Rachel Viehmann also gives the Lady Bisons some size and strength inside.

"She got some playing time last season," said Bennett. "She can run the floor really well. She is probably our only true low post player, but she is pretty good from medium range."

THE SCHEDULE

The Lady Bisons have never been shy about playing a tough schedule and this year is no exception.

Highlighting the home schedule is a regular season opener against Southeastern Conference opponent Arkansas at Allen Arena Nov. 17.

"That's going to be an exciting way to start the season," said Bennett.

Other non-conference home games are Fisk (Nov. 20), Tennessee State (Nov. 27), and LaSalle (Jan. 2).

The Lady Bisons play a heavy tournament schedule with the University of Memphis tournament Thanksgiving weekend where they meet Austin Peay in the first round. Central Arkansas rounds out the field. The Lady Bisons go downtown Dec. 20 and 21 for a tournament Vanderbilt. They will face the Lady Commodores in the first round. Indiana State and Longwood are the other teams in the field.

`We really like a couple of things about this schedule,: said Bennett. "For the first time since we made the move to Division I we have a number of home games during the Fall semester.

`Another thing I like is that our non-conference road games are all within about three hours of Nashville. Last season we played non-conference games all over the country and that kind of wore us out."

For the first time since the Lady Bisons joined the A-Sun they will play their two December conference games at home with Jacksonville visiting Nov. 30 and North Florida on campus Dec. 2.

"It will be nice to play our first two conference games at home for a change," said Bennett. "We are excited about the team this season."