The Oglethorpe women's basketball team is about to get undergo a youth movement. With only two starters from last year's team returning, the team will see eight freshmen come into the fold as they try to improve on their 8-17 record last season, 5-11 in Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) play. The team begins a new era this year, as it competes in the inaugural season of the Southern Athletic Association (SAA). Head Coach Aaron Nester is excited about the possibilities this season with the infusion of youth. "With all the inexperience on our team, we may have to find our legs a little bit starting out, but by January we should have a very good chance to win games," he said. "I think the conference championship is a lofty but feasible goal if we focus on the little things and focus on getting better in each game we play."
One of the team's two returning starters is senior center Sarah Giles. She has already established herself as for her shot-blocking prowess (she averaged 1.9 blocks per game last season), but now she'll look to have a breakout season in other facets by improving on her 8.5 point per game and 5.4 rebound per game average.
Helping her out in the frontcourt will be freshmen Ali Bleckley, Alana Bentley and Mary Johnston. The six-foot Bleckley will provide size, as well as the ability to score from the perimeter and from inside the paint. Bentley brings a physical presence inside the paint, while Johnston has the ability to attack off the dribble.
In the backcourt, returning starter Kyana Jenkins (2.6 PPG, 1.8 APG) and returning contributor Aisha Atwater (4.5 PPG, 2.3 APG) will provide quality minutes for the team and will help to run the team from the point. The youth infusion will be clear in the backcourt, as well. Freshmen Kalin Williams, Emily Buck, Gabby Cole and Kendelle Culpepper will look to compete for playing time. Williams is a very talented guard, who won four state championships during her high-school career. She has excellent ball-handling skills and a good perimeter shot. Buck provides lockdown defense from the forward position and is a force to be reckoned with when attacking the basket. Cole is a very athletic player and a quality shooter, and Culpepper looks to provide good minutes off the bench for the Lady Petrels.
The SAA schedule should provide a challenge for the Lady Petrels, as the new league features four teams that finished above .500 last season, including last year's SCAC champion and NCAA regional semifinalist Centre. Centre and Millsaps received votes in the D3hoops.com preseason Top 25 poll. The Lady Petrels have also set up a challenging non-conference schedule, with preseason No. 22 Emory and recent national champion Howard Payne, who received votes in the D3hoops.com poll, highlighting the slate.
The Lady Petrels will try to make a big jump from their 8-17 season last year, and will look to take a big step toward competing for the conference championship this season.