After enduring a difficult, but necessary, transition season in 2007-08, women’s head basketball coach Janell Jones and a retooled Bears squad cannot wait to get back onto the court this year to show their fans what they are truly capable of.
Coach Jannell Jones, right, coaches the Bears during a timeout in a game last season. Jones says this year's team is set to make big improvements.
With a solid core of returning players, a hatful of talented young newcomers, and a challenging schedule designed to push the team to their very best, the Bears are aiming to turn a few heads in the Atlantic Sun Conference this season. Though the conference’s preseason poll estimated the team would finish in a tie for eighth place, Mercer’s team believes they are fully capable of shaking up those early rankings.
“Of course, we certainly have higher expectations than what the poll reads.” Jones said. “[Our ranking] is something we will use as a motivational tool for the girls to get them to really push themselves and exceed those expectations.”
Perhaps the Bears’ deepest position is guard, where the Orange and Black will have plenty of quality options, including top returning scorer, LaToya Jackson. Jackson paced the team with 13.8 points per game (good for fifth-best in the A-Sun) in her first season with the Bears.
In addition to Jackson, Mercer also returns senior guard Megan Lewis, who averaged 4.9 points per game. Another familiar figure in the guard spot will be Cristin Seymour. Playing in all but one game, Seymour was a consistent performer for the Bears last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Besides a solid core of veterans, the Bears will also have plenty of fresh faces battling for time in the backcourt as well.
A transfer from Oklahoma State, Natasha Doh, will likely play a large role. Doh averaged 2.9 points and 2.1 rebounds for the Cowgirls in 2006-07, shooting over 50 percent from three-point range. Doh also has a history with Jones, having played under her at Oklahoma City University in her freshman season (2004-05), helping the team to a 32-7 record.
Senior TaShera Lewis tops the list of Bears competing for time at the forward position. Lewis finished second on the team in scoring last season, adding 6.9 points per game, with an impressive 9.1 per game in A-Sun play. Senior Dominique Chism should also be a prominent feature of the Mercer frontcourt. The forward was a standout performer with Oklahoma State during the 2006-07 season, starting 17 of the 31 games she appeared in for the Cowgirls. Jones and the Bears hope Chism’s debut at Mercer is as impressive as her first outing with OSU, where she scored 11 points in just 12 minutes. Returning senior Nicole Leonard and incoming junior Holly Bawden will also see time at forward for the Bears this season.
In addition to its forwards, Mercer will have two up-and-coming talents to choose from in the center position. The lone sophomore on the roster, Kourtney Carter, earned 19 starts in her first season with the Bears last year. Carter will be joined in the middle by newcomer Lacy Ramon. The Norman, Okla., native took her Mustang and Norman High School squads to four straight state tournaments, winning a state championship in 2006. Ramon averaged 12.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists on her way to a McDonald’s All-American nomination in her senior season.
Following an exhibition in early November in the University Center, the Bears open the regular season with a four-game road swing beginning on Nov. 15 when they battle No. 11 Texas A&M in College Station. “We open the season on the road,” said Jones. “And opening up at Texas A&M will be a challenge but we’ll get a chance early to see our strengths and weaknesses.”
Due to the additional conference games this season, A-Sun play will start Dec. 3 when University of South Carolina Upstate invades Macon. Two days later, Mercer hosts East Tennessee State University before embarking on a season-high seven-game road swing. The Lady Bucs represented the A-Sun at last year’s NCAA Tournament and were downed by Oklahoma State in first-round action.
The tough road stretch begins with another NCAA Tournament squad from last season as the Bears travel to Tallahassee for a tilt with Florida State on Dec. 14. FSU defeated Ohio State in the first round and lost to Oklahoma State in the Round of 32.
“I like having two Atlantic Sun Conference games before Christmas,” Jones said. “That will give us three games in a row at home before heading to Tallahassee. Since ETSU is the defending league champion, they will obviously be tough. That game should provide an early measuring stick of our team.”