BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - Youth springs hopes eternal, and the 2011-12 Union women's basketball team will be banking on a wealth of underclassmen to help bolster a small but experienced core of upperclassmen.
The Lady Bulldogs (17-13 overall, 7-7 Appalachian Athletic
Conference in 2010-11) only has five upperclassman on their roster with one
being a newcomer. However, Union returns plenty of experience with 10 of the 17
players having seen action last season, including four starters.
"I've never really concerned about having a lot of youth,"
said Union head coach Tim Curry. "We
won a conference championship five freshmen.
"What we think we've got is a good mix of upper and lower
classmen along with a good mix of experience because we had to play a lot
freshmen last year."
After a fast 7-1 start last season which included a six-game
win streak, Union struggled to maintain consistency in large part due to a rash
of injuries. Following the solid start, the Lady Bulldogs did not win more than
three games in a row.
"We have to stay healthy and learn to work to get better
each day," Curry said. "If we can do that, then we can become a very good
basketball team come January and February."
Union will look to its three seniors for leadership. Kara Pile (Fairdale, Ky.) and Courtney Thomas (Glasgow, Ky.) have
been three-year starters for the Lady Bulldogs. With 869 career points, Pile is
131 points away from being the 15th player to join the 1,000-point club.
Thomas, meanwhile, has 414 career rebounds and is 16 away from cracking the top
10 on the Lady Bulldog all-rime rebounding list.
Kathryn Clark (Frankfort,
Ky.) is the third senior, and she has steadily seen her playing time increase
during her tenure as she's become a solid contributor in the backcourt.
"We expect (our seniors) to step up the forefront because
they know what to expect on and off the floor," said the Lady Bulldog coach.
Union averaged 78.5 points per game as a team while surrendering
73.2. Opponents did own a 43.3-38.0 edge in rebounding, but the Lady Bulldogs
did drain 299 3-pointers and made 35.5 percent from long range.
While Union returns plenty of experience in the backcourt,
Curry says this is an area the team is looking to develop some depth.
Pile, Laura Perkins (Myra,
Ky.), Alyson Roberts (Baxter, Tenn.)
and Amber Taylor (Clinton, Tenn.)
will be counted on early to provide ball-handling, scoring and little bit of
everything. Pile and Taylor will share a lot of time at point guard. Pile
averaged 11.2 points per game and had 80 assists, while Taylor posted an 8.8
point-per-game average to go with her 75 assists.
Roberts, who averaged 7.3 points per game in 2010-11, will
see a lot of time at shooting guard. Perkins is able to help out at a number of
different positions in the backcourt as her 6.5 PPG, 36 assists and 85 rebounds
from last season indicate.
Curry added newcomer Kaley
Griffin (McHenry, Ky.) could develop into a viable option.
Forwards and Centers
Union will have something it didn't last season: size.
The Lady Bulldogs didn't have a strong presence in the paint
during the 2010-11 campaign and had a general lack of height. That will not be
the case this season.
Waters (Stearns, Ky.) stands at 6-foot-1, while Anna Hart (Simpsonville, Ky.), Brooke
Hill (Sparta, Ky.) and Mackenzie
McFall (Harrogate, Tenn.) are 5-foot-10 or taller. Waters, Hart and Hill
are expected to battle for the bulk of playing time at either the four or five
Thomas, a 5-foot-9 guard/forward, can help out at the three
and four positions, and Marah Rice (Scottsville,
Ky.) and Jennifer Johnson (Bowling
Green, Ky.) have shown great improvement over the summer and could prove to be
valuable assets in the paint.
The added height will hopefully create the perfect balance
Union strives for on offense between its 3-point shooting and post play.
"When we have a true balance, that's when we are at our
best," Curry said. "We want to be very balanced and make it difficult for
people to guard us."
Winning the conference championship will be no easy chore.
Four teams are ranked within the top 40, including No. 9 Tennessee Wesleyan and
No. 21 Milligan (Tenn.).
"There are several other teams who could challenge (for the
championship)," said Curry. "I know it seems like we say this every year, but
this is probably the deepest the conference has been in some time.
"It'll definitely be an interesting year. There's no
question about it."
The 2011-12 slate is not too kind to the Lady Bulldogs, who
open the season with their first six games on the road. Union plays only one
home date in November but is at home for all five December contests. Eight of
16 games in January and February are at Robsion Arena.
Union opens the season at the Tennessee Wesleyan Classic on
Friday and Saturday, facing Brenau (Ga.) and Alice Lloyd (Ky.). Union's home
opener isn't until No. 26 against Berea (Ky.), and the conference opener is set
for Nov. 30 at Bluefield (Va.).