Women's Basketball Team Riding Momentum Into 2013-2014 Campaign
DAHLONEGA, Georgia – (UNGAthletics.com) - The 2013 UNG Women's basketball team is looking to build on a late season Peach Belt Conference tournament run that took last year's squad all the way to the league championship game. After an up and down regular season littered with close games – five conference losses came by four points or less – head coach Buffie Burson is hopeful that with all five starters returning, the Nighthawks will be able to take that next step. This season will mark Burson's 20th year at the helm of the North Georgia program.
"We made that late run and even the games we had lost, with the exception of Clayton State, they were all pretty close games so we felt like we were getting there," said Burson. "Now we feel like if we can just take off from where we left off last year; that's been our whole theme this summer and preseason. We also return all six of our top players from last year." The Nighthawks return all five starters from last season and their top six scorers.
There's certainly no shortage of star power with this group, though, as the Nighthawk faithful with get to see one more year from senior Jaymee Carnes, the 2012 Daktronics Division II National Player of the Year. Last season, Carnes was named 1st team All-Conference and All-Region after finishing third in the league in scoring, at 17.8 points per game and second in rebounding, at 9.4 per contest.
In addition to Carnes, the Nighthawks are also returning 2nd team All-Conference selection Mimi Hill who averaged 14.1 while pulling down 7.4 rebounds per game. Coach Burson and company will certainly be looking to lean on Carnes and Hill to carry the load; however the other returning players and first year players may be the ultimate difference makers.
"(Returning Carnes and Hill) means we have the potential to be really good. A lot of attention will be on them and that puts a little bit of pressure on them. But at the same time, I think the people around them will be the difference makers. If they can just be Mimi and Jaymee, just be themselves then Keeley Chester and Stephanie Huffman, those are the kids who are really going to make the team go," stated Burson. "Everyone knows about Carnes and Hill, as long as they stay healthy and do their thing it could be a really good year. But that's all potential."
With much of the attention likely to be focused on Carnes and Hill, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities for the perimeter players to find open shots from the outside. The return of junior Stephanie Huffman plus sophomores Keeley Chester and Molly Rainwater, there will be needed experience to help ease the pressure off of the aforementioned Carnes and Hill. Huffman, to her credit, was also named 3rd team All-Conference after averaging 12 points per contest last season.
There will also be big minutes that will be spread around several newcomers. Most notably, Kaylee and Karlee Akin, Jordan Livesay, and sophomore transfers Helena Pouengue and Lauren Pounds. Livesay and Pouengue, along with the Akin twins will look to bring depth to the backcourt while Pounds adds needed depth to the frontcourt.
"Five of our seven (newcomers) are perimeter players and that was a position that we really wanted to add some depth to this year because a couple of our guards last year were playing 30+ minutes a game. The Akin twins and Jordan Livesay, all three of them have looked really good in the preseason in terms of being able to shoot the ball and bring some energy," said Burson. "Helena Pouengue from Lipscomb is going to be the backup point guard right now, she's coming along real good and she looked real good in the first scrimmage."
When the Nighthawks open the season on November 11th, there will certainly be no shortage of talent or experience. However, Coach Burson is cautiously optimistic that it could be a special year if everything goes accordingly.
"I'd cautiously put our expectations pretty high just because of the returning three all-conference players and the finish we had. But I'd still base it on potential and there are a lot of things that have to go right. When we won that regular season championship in 2006, our very first Peach Belt game on the road we were down 18 at half time and came back to win by 10," recalls Burson. "There are so many things that have to go right and there's so many good teams in the Peach Belt. Expectation wise, I think this team has a real good shot of being real successful."
UNG will begin their season on Monday, November 11th as they travel to Brevard, N. C. to face off against Brevard College at 6:00 PM.
Story By: Chris Natsch, UNG Athletic Communications Student Assistant