LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- For the Covenant women's basketball team in 2018-19, it is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar territory. As the Scots get set to begin the season on Friday, the program has six seniors but a new coaching staff in head coach Skylar Bareford and assistant Caleb Poston.
Covenant faces Thomas More on Friday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. in Danville, Ky., as part of the 2018 Lee's Famous Chicken/Hampton Inn Classic, hosted by Centre. The Scots finish the weekend trip by playing the host Colonels on Saturday at a new time of 6 p.m.
Bareford enters her first year as a college head coach and inherits a Covenant squad that won 14 games and advanced to the quarterfinals of the USA South Tournament last season. The Scots were picked fifth in the USA South West Division in the league's annual preseason poll.
Six seniors, three starters, and 10 total players make up the returners for Bareford entering this season. The veteran group was key in Covenant's breakout season a year ago, which included an eight-game win streak towards the end of the season, and the program's first winning record in the USA South. As a group, Covenant averaged 67.1 points per game, the highest output for the program since the 2008-09 season, and over 64 percent of that scoring returns this year.
Senior Bekah Walter is Covenant's top returning scorer after she led the Scots by averaging 13.0 points per game, a career-high, last season. Right there with Walter is senior Joanna Smith, who averaged a double-double last season with 11.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest. Smith begins the year just 92 points shy of joining the 1,000 career point club in program history.
Seniors Kaley Hallmark and Taylor Robinson were also key figures for the Scots last season. Hallmark, a second team All-USA South West Division honoree, averaged 11.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game a season ago. Robinson, meanwhile, was able to put together a full season and produced 7.7 points and 3.4 rebounds a game. Fellow seniors Grace Potter and Morgan Douglass combined for significant time and look for even greater impact this year.
Aside from the large senior class, Bareford also returns sophomore forwards Hannah Monday, Raquel Rosa, and Rachel Thomas. All three averaged nearly double-digit minutes a game each in their rookie seasons. The team's lone junior, Margo Koby, also returns to the squad.
Covenant opens the season with tough, non-conference foes in Thomas More, Centre, and Oglethorpe (Nov. 20). Thomas More won the NCAA Division III title in 2016 and reached the Final Four in 2018, while Centre had a winning record last season and Oglethorpe won the SAA before advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
A key early season stretch for the Scots will take place on Nov. 30-Dec. 1 as Covenant hosts Piedmont and Huntingdon to open USA South play. Piedmont, the reigning USA South champion, was picked second in the USA South West Division in the preseason poll. Huntingdon came out fourth in the poll, one spot ahead of the Scots.
A trip to Texas highlights the non-conference slate as the Scots travel to Dallas over Christmas Break to play UT-Dallas (Dec. 28) and McMurry (Dec. 29). UT-Dallas was also an NCAA Tournament team last season as the Comets made it to the second round.
The final two months of the season are nearly all conference games. Covenant will go outside USA South play on Feb. 7 against Toccoa Falls at home before having Senior Day on Feb. 9 against LaGrange.
The USA South Tournament is set for Feb. 13. The top six teams in each division qualify, with seeds 3-4 hosting first round games on Feb. 13. The highest remaining seed will host the semifinals and championship on Feb. 22-23.
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