Defending SLC Champions Set Open 2006-07 Season
Nov. 8, 2006
NACOGDOCHES - What a difference a year makes. At this time last season, SFA Ladyjack head basketball coach Lee Ann Riley was heading into a season with one of the most, if not the most, experienced teams in the Southland Conference. Just one season, 23 victories, four All-Southland Conference selections, one SLC regular-season title, one SLC tournament title and a trip to the NCAA Championships later, and the Ladyjacks are one of the youngest teams in the conference, sporting six freshmen and four sophomores.
But don't let the overall youth of the 2006-07 Ladyjack squad fool you, SFA is not completely void of experience, returning four seniors and junior point guard Nikki Carr, who earned honorable mention all-conference honors last season.
The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2006-07 Ladyjack basketball team.
The guard spot should be one of the strengths of the Ladyjack squad this season, especially at the point. The Ladyjacks return the aforementioned Carr, along with sophomore Anitria Mosley, who is coming off a rookie season that saw her get stronger as the year wore on. Mosley capped her freshman season with a career-high 16-point performance against Arizona State in the NCAA Championships.
"I really feel this will be a strong area for our team, because we return a couple of players with a ton of experience," said Riley. "Nikki has started all but two games during her SFA career and received all-conference recognition this past season. She has the ability to make those around her play better. We really need a breakout year from Nikki. She has had some unbelievable games in the past, but we need her to take it to another level this season.
"The last half of the season, Mosley really came into her own. Mosley might be a little undersized but she has an uncanny ability to finish in traffic. She was so impressive in the NCAA tournament and has continued her solid play in preseason workouts. The great thing about Mosley is that she has a different style of play than Carr, which allows us to have them in the game at the same time," added Riley.
In addition to Carr and Mosley, the Ladyjacks brought in 5-5 Martina Holloway from Albuquerque, N.M., to add depth to the roster. Holloway comes to Nacogdoches as one of the top prep guards in the state. As a junior, Holloway led the state averaging 8.1 assists per game. She was an all-state selection who averaged 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game.
"Martina really understands the game and her role on the court," said Riley. "She not only has the ability to find the open player and get her the ball, but she knows where that player is going to be a couple of steps ahead. With a lot of young point guards, they wait too late to make a pass, which is not the case with Martina."
With Mosley really taking ownership of the point guard role as a rookie, and Carr's proven ability to knock down the long-range jumper, Carr also could see some time at the off-guard spot as well. The addition of Holloway also could help increase Carr's minutes at the No. 2 spot.
If point guard is the strongest part of Riley's squad, the off guard position could be the deepest. The Ladyjacks enter the season with six athletes at this position, including 2005-06 returning starter Jennifer Simpson. The Ladyjacks' No. 2 spot is made stronger by the fact Carr will move from her point guard role over to play the two. She will be joined by 5-11 sophomore Jamie Ansley, who battled through an injury-plagued 2005-06 season.
The Ladyjacks' off-guard position could truly be described by the old adage `a solid mix of experience and youthful talent.' The duo of Simpson and Carr give the Ladyjacks 87 starts at the position. These two will have the responsibility of helping ease the transition of three incoming freshmen from high school seniors to the rigors of college freshmen. Stuck right in the middle of this group are Ansley, sophomores Jessica Gaines and Natashia Green, who each gained valuable experience helping the Ladyjacks' in their run to the NCAA Championships.
"Jennifer started 28 games for us last season," said Riley. "We saw a ton of improvement from her sophomore to her junior season and expect her to continue to improve as she enters her final season. We used her as our defensive stopper last season. She is so athletic that she has the ability to match up against players that are bigger or smaller than she is."
Simpson has started 32 games during her career, and although she has been used primarily as a defensive threat during her career she has the potential to put up big offensive numbers, posting multiple double-figure games during her career.
In addition to Simpson, the Ladyjacks also return 5-10 Rockdale native Jessica Gaines and 5-7 Lancaster standout Natashia Green to the off-guard role. The Gaines-Green duo brings very different styles of play to the court. Green is a more athletic guard with the ability to get the ball to the basket, whereas Gaines does most her damage from beyond the three-point arc, knocking down 54 percent of three-point attempts as a freshman.
"Natashia has had an unbelievable summer," said Riley. "She has improved more over the course of one summer than any player I've ever coached. She has been so dedicated to the weight room and to improving her own personal skills that I'm really looking forward to what she can do this season. Natashia can run the floor well, hit the three, drive the ball to the basket and rebound. She brings a lot of skills to the court.
"Jessica becomes a threat as soon as she steps on the court because she can hit a 23-foot jump shot. She gives us another look at the two. She's so strong that she can go inside and bang around with the bigger players. I'm proud of Jessica because she spent the offseason really working on her quickness."
The Ladyjacks' returnees will be pushed by a talented crop of incoming freshmen, which consists of 5-11 Fort Worth native Whitney Cormier, 5-9 Angelina Dennison from Albuquerque, N.M., and 5-7 Simpson, La., product Lindsey Martin.
"We needed another three-point threat in our lineup, and we think we have filled that spot with Lindsey," said Riley. "She is a great outside shooter, and when you need a big bucket, you want the ball in her hands. During the recruiting process, we were impressed with her competitive drive, but she has really come in here and taken that to another level with her work ethic.
"Angelina is athletic enough to play the two or three position. She is just a smooth athlete who brings a great defensive presence to the court, but also has the ability to hit the long-range jumper," added Riley.
"Although she may not look like it, Whitney Cormier is a very strong athlete. She brings a lot of speed to the court. She can do so many things on the court that make her dangerous. She is a good defender, can hit the pull-up jumper and also has the ability to finish in traffic."
The Ladyjacks return two forwards from last year's team in 6-0 senior Evelyn Edwards and Ansley. These two players are entering the 2006-07 season from opposite ends of the spectrum. Whereas Edwards enjoyed one of her better seasons as a Ladyjack coming off the bench to fill her role admirably, Ansley enters her sophomore season feeling she was robbed of playing time due to injuries.
"Jamie has the ability to either play on the perimeter or play inside, but she had a rough first year," said Riley. "She would have been a big part of our team last year but the foot injury really took away her whole season. She has worked hard this summer and looks great. She has the ability to guard bigger players because she is so strong."
Ansley will see a good majority of time this season at forward, but also will be counted on to play some minutes on the wing as well. Similarly to Ansley seeing some playing time at the guard spot this season, Dennison is athletic enough that she also will see time in the forward rotation.
Edwards came into her junior season knowing she was going to be a role player and really answered the call. Edwards averaged 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last season, while playing less than 14 minutes per contest. Edwards scored in double-figures three times last season and recorded a double-doubles despite the limited minutes.
"Evelyn had an exceptional season for us," said Riley. "She knew she wasn't going to get a ton of minutes but did a great job. Evelyn runs the floor well, hustles after the ball and can hit the jumper from the high post. She plays bigger than she is."
The Ladyjacks return 6-3 Memphis transfer Charity Egenti who really came on at the end of her junior season, to go along with 6-0 Natalie Kizzee, who returns for her senior year after redshirting the 2005-06 season. The Ladyjacks will need these two seniors to carry a big load if SFA is to defend its title.
"Charity is another young lady who has spent the offseason working really hard," said Riley. "We saw a huge jump in Charity's confidence and performance from the start of last year through the NCAA Championships. The key with Charity is she just hasn't played a lot. The more minutes she got on the court, the more she improved. Charity brings a new dimension to our team that not too many programs have. She is a 6-3 post player who can step out beyond the arc and knock down the three."
Kizzee utilized her redshirt season during last year's magical run to the SLC title and has come back stronger. She will be counted on for her leadership as she enters her final season in the SFA purple and white.
"Natalie has impressed me so much," said Riley. "She has come back hungry for the season. She has looked really good in our preseason workouts. Natalie was a big part of our team two years ago and we need her to fill that same role this year."
The Ladyjacks also have brought in 6-1 freshman Karlee Wilson from Longview, Texas. Wilson was a three-time all-district selection, who earned first-team all-East Texas honors the past two years for Hallsville High School. Her exploits on the floor earned her McDonald's All-America consideration.