LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- The Covenant women's basketball program has under gone change over the last two years under head coach Sarah Harris, but year three might feature the most drastic changes of them all.
Under Harris, in her third year at the helm of the program, the Scots have nine newcomers as Harris brought in her largest recruiting class at Covenant. Mix that in with the rule changes implemented for women's basketball by the NCAA and Friday's opener at home vs. Berry will have a very unfamiliar look to it. To complete the new look, the team will be sporting brand new home white uniforms for the 2015-16 year.
"We have the largest roster I have had in my time here at Covenant," Harris said. "And that is giving us more depth with players who are versatile and bring a high level of energy to the program."
Coming off a tough season in 2014-15, Harris returns five players from that squad led by juniors Rachel Price and Aleigha Williams. Price started all 25 games a season ago and led the team in rebounding, while Williams averaged 9.8 points in 14 games.
"All of those returners have been continuing to progress and build off where they were last year," Harris said. "They have also been a tremendous help to the newcomers and are excited about what those young players will bring."
The bulk of the roster consists of seven freshmen and one sophomore transfer. The largest recruiting class in Harris' tenure looks to make an immediate impact on the program.
"Overall, this group is talented," Harris noted. "They are skilled and I have been pleased with all of them in preseason practice. All are athletic, have scoring potential and can play at the pace we want."
Highlighting the newcomers are freshmen Kaley Hallmark, Joanna Smith and Bekah Walter. "Hallmark comes from a strong background in high school and is a steady player who does things right on both ends of the court," Harris noted. "Smith is strong and plays hard and Walter can knock down shots and has the ability to get to the rim."
Also looking to contribute immediately are freshmen Grace Potter, Noelle Moran, Kate Patrick and Morgan Douglass. Freshman Ashley Gilbert also has potential, but is recovering from an injury. Sophomore Ellen Ortlip comes to Covenant after playing a season at Berry in 2013-14.
The NCAA introduced new rules for the women's game this year. Most notable is the move from two, 20-minute halves to four, 10-minute quarters. Additionally, in the last 59.9 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtimes, teams may advance the ball past halfcourt after calling a timeout immediately after a rebound or made field goal. Finally, five team fouls in a quarter will result in two free throws (one-and-one bonus has been eliminated).
"I don't think the rule changes will affect the players as much as it will the coaches," Harris said. "The double-bonus free throws will be an interesting one to watch. Being able to advance the ball late adds some strategy and excitement to the game."
Harris also noted that with a team full of freshmen that have never played a college game, the move to quarters should not be an issue. "The coaches will have to learn how to manage those quarters effectively. It will be different, but I think that it can provide some excitement and am looking forward to seeing how it plays out this year."
Harris' schedule is a familiar one with common opponents in the non-conference portion to go along with a 16-game USA South slate. The Scots will have just two home games before Christmas Break, starting with Friday's opener against Berry.
"Non-conference is pretty similar as we've had before," Harris noted. "Our schedule is full of good teams that will prepare us for the USA South. The conference is going to be strong once again."
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