By ASHLEY OWENS
The Lady Colonels look toward an exciting season with a roster stacked with experience. Though Eastern’s key players Marie Carpenter and Pilar Walker graduated, the women’s basketball team returns three starters from last season: juniors Jasmine Stafford, Shelly Harper and Miranda Maples.
“We graduated two great players in Marie and Pilar, and those are some big shoes to fill,” head coach Chrissy Roberts said. “But this team that we’re working with right now has been working really hard. They’ve been working hard for each other. We’re solid…I feel like we’ll be balanced at every position.”
Some returning underclassmen who saw playing time last year include sophomores Nicole Bowers and Michaela Hunter.
“Michaela has a lot of energy so you just feed off that,” Stafford, “A lot of people are stepping up and having bigger roles for the team.”
Other skilled players, such as Arkansas State University transfer Jalen O’Bannon and South Georgia Technical College standout Shameekia “Polly” Murray were added to the Lady Colonels’ roster.
O’Bannon will have to sit out this season because of transfer rules. The junior averaged 10.4 points per game and a team best 6.6 rebounds per game last year at Arkansas.
Murray was part of the nationally ranked South Georgia Technical team where the junior was honored with the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association (GCAA) Player of the Year and the NJCAA Region XVII Tournament MVP.
“Our new players are definitely making us old players better,” Harper said.
The Lady Colonels will also rely on a new addition to the coaching staff this upcoming season with EKU Hall-of-Fame guard Teresa McNair. McNair was a guard for the Lady Colonels from 1999-2003. As a senior, McNair was named first team All-OVC, averaging 10.8 points per game and leading the nation with 131 steals.
The team’s experience is no little feat as the 2013-14 team won 17 games and advanced to the semifinals of the OVC Tournament.
As far as scheduling goes, the Lady Colonels will start with a bang. Eastern opens its official season Nov. 15 in the Preseason WNIT. The Lady Colonels will take on West Virginia who won the Big 12 last season and was ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press national poll.
Other difficult teams include University of Tennessee at Martin, who played in the NCAA Tournament, and Belmont University, who played in the 2013-14 WNIT.
Though Eastern was picked to finish seventh in the OVC, Stafford said the team will surprise fans with its efforts and will use the ranking as a chance to prove themselves.
“It’s just motivation for us,” Stafford said. “We have nothing negative to say about that, only positive. It’s just a bigger statement we’ve got to make.”
The Lady Colonels will no longer compete in divisional play as they have the past two years.
Eastern’s home opener comes a bit later Dec. 2 where the team will play its first game on the newly renovated McBrayer Arena floor. Eastern will host Asbury University in the home opener.