LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- After a vastly improved season a year ago, the Covenant women's basketball team will look to continue that trend in the 2016-17 season. The season gets underway on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at home against Sewanee. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. at Barnes PE Center.
Fourth-year head coach Sarah Harris is excited about her team's potential after going 10-15 last year and just missing out on the USA South Tournament.
"We just want to build upon some of the ground work that was laid last year," Harris said. "We felt last year that there was definitely opportunity across the board for growth in our program. We are another year more mature and experienced, which should help us."
The Scots return a bevy of experienced players with 12 total returners, including all five starters, from last year's squad. Topping the list of returners is sophomore Joanna Smith, who was named USA South Rookie of the Year after averaging 12.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game a season ago. Senior forward Rachel Price tallied 5.7 points and 7.6 rebounds last year and returns along with junior forward Clara Dirkse, senior guard Aleigha Williams and sophomore guard Kaley Hallmark.
"One of the fun things about this group is that we don't have a true superstar," Harris said of her returners. "We've challenged everyone to step up and emerge and we are looking for this whole group to do that."
Sophomore guard Bekah Walter returns after starting 12 games and averaging 6.7 points per contest a year ago. Junior forward Jessica Bell along with senior guard Alex Quimby saw significant time in reserve roles a year ago. Also returning are sophomore guards Grace Potter, Morgan Douglass and Noelle Moran, along with junior forward Ellen Ortlip.
Harris says that part of the process of taking the next step is the team learning how to impose its own will on the opponent. The Scots got a taste of that last spring with a trip to Guatemala where they went a perfect 7-0. "The trip to Guatemala wasn't supposed to be about us getting better as a basketball team, but it was significant to that end," said Harris. "We went 7-0 and learned how to build upon leads and close out teams. Those are the things a mature team knows how to do."
With so many returners, Harris' recruiting class was small as three newcomers join the Scots. Junior guard Emma Grimes (Melbourne, Fla.) joins the program after transferring in from Eastern Florida State where she was an all-conference player last year.
"Emma Grimes comes in with collegiate experience. She can knock down shots and we've been impressed with her ability to create in the half-court," Harris said. "She has a high basketball IQ and has a knack for finding teammates."
"Both of the freshmen have a lot of versatility," Harris noted. "Kulits can play at the perimeter and around the basket, while Koby has a nice mid-range game and can also play at the hoop. I've been pleased with their transition into the program."
Picked to finish fourth in the West Division of the USA South in the league's preseason poll, Harris sees an opportunity for her team to start making that climb up the conference ladder.
"With the addition of three teams to the conference, it opens up the conference tournament a bit," Harris said, as the top six teams from each division will qualify for the tournament. "We have yet to compete in the USA South Tournament, and that's a realistic goal this year, but we want to have a high seed with a chance to host tournament games."
After taking over the program in 2013-14, Harris has rebuilt the Scots but wants to see her team pick up some signature wins this year against familiar opponents that Covenant has struggled with over the last three years.
"One of our goals is to get program-defining wins this year. Our schedule has a lot of familiar opponents that we don't really have a history of success against," Harris said. "We want to begin rewriting some of that history this year."
Covenant will begin that process on Tuesday against Sewanee. The Scots will play 11 games at Barnes PE Center during the year, including contests against Birmingham Southern, Piedmont, Maryville and LaGrange.
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