But Friday night at 7:30 at Allen Arena coach Frank Bennett will officially start his 30th season as the head coach of the Lady Bisons. And it will be a challenging start to the season as the Lady Bisons welcome the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, the defending Patriot League Champions. The Mountain Hawks won a school record 26 games last season and were 17-0 at home. They return four starters from that team.
Lehigh’s point guard Erica Prosser is the defending Patriot League Player of the Year. The No. 2 guard, Alex Ross, is from Columbia, Tenn. She is a top 3-point shooter and a preseason all-conference selection.
“Their strength last season was their guard play,” said Bennett. “They are the kind of team that plays hard and executes well. They are like an upper-echelon Atlantic Sun team in a lot of ways.”
While Bennett has given a great deal of thought about Lehigh, he has not dwelled on his longevity. When the Lady Bisons break their huddles, they yell “passion” which is the slogan for the season.
“People say something about it every once in awhile, but it isn’t that big of a deal for me,” said Bennett. “The Lord has blessed me with a lot of good assistants and good players. It has been a great experience.
“The unusual thing is to have been at the same school this long. There are a few of us out there.”
Bennett doesn’t think his passion for the game has decreased. In fact, he has instituted new offensive and defensive schemes this season.
“I am very passionate about the start of this season,” said Bennett. “I have worked harder than I have in a long time on preparations that will help the team produce good results.
“Coach (Don) Meyer used to say that when you have an old coach who is still passionate you have someone who is dangerous. I am kind of paraphrasing that.”
In addition to trying to win their home opener, the Lady Bisons want to bounce back from Tuesday night’s 85-76 exhibition loss to NAIA foe Freed-Hardeman. The Lady Bisons missed 21 shots in the paint, a problem Bennett and his staff dealt with this week.
“We did some full court lay-ups,” said Bennett. “Part of it was we weren’t executing our Lipscomb motion. We weren’t getting the looks we would have liked.
“We ended up standing around and looking at each other with one player making a one-on-one move. Hopefully we have made some corrections on that this week.”
The players have also been proactive. They met after the game to talk about what went wrong. At Wednesday’s practice a couple of players apologized in front of their teammates for their performances.
“I think the girls were disappointed and mad at their execution,” said Bennett. “They met after the game on their own to try to re-focus. We have had good practices the last couple of days.”
Defensively, the Lady Bisons also have to elevate their efforts. They have allowed more than 40 points in three of the four halves they have played in exhibition games.
“It is important, especially at home, to get a quick start and put the visiting team on its heels,” said Bennett. “Our big thing right now is getting better on the defensive end. We have to be better in communicating what the other team is running. We have to be more solid in contesting shots and get on the defensive boards better.
“We have spent a lot of time on the offensive end putting in some new stuff. But we are concentrating more on defense right now.”
Offensively, the Lady Bisons have put together some strong halves with 40 or more points in three of the four they have played.
Chelsea Burroughs, Valerie Bronson and Jenna Bartsokas have scored in double figures in both games. Burroughs has been the leading scorer for the Lady Bisons in each game.
“Jenna, Chelsea and Val have been playing very well on the perimeter,” said Bennett. “I think Brittany Duerk is going to give us solid play at the post. We will probably have Valerie and Leah McAlister play some at the four position.
“Lehigh’s man-to-man defense is very similar to Freed’s. It is more of a packing man-to-man as opposed to one with hard denial pressure. If you can’t beat their defense down the floor you have to be more patient and work for good shots.”
The Lady Bisons are back at home Sunday afternoon to play Central Arkansas at 3:30.