|Different year, same story for the MTSU women’s basketball team as it is picked to win the Sun Belt Conference Eastern
As usual, the Lady Raiders will be looking for more this season, along with another SBC title and a longer stay in the NCAA tournament.
Last season, MTSU made another trip to the NCAA tournament, but its stay was not very long when they lost to Georgia in the first round. This year’s team has three starters returning, and two of those were selected to the preseason All-SBC team l
Sophomore forward Ebony Rowe was named All-SBC Co-Preseason Player of the Year, while fellow forward Icelyn Elie was selected to the All-SBC second team. However, Elie said the team does not focus on those awards.
“We don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Elie, who averaged 10.9 points and 5.8, rebounds last season for the Blue Raiders, said. “We just focus as a team and go play.”
Both of those players along with the third starter coming back, junior guard Kortni Jones, along with a crop of young players that have valuable experience from last season will face another tough non-conference schedule that will help prepare them for the tough conference portion later in the year.
The Lady Raiders are scheduled to play eight teams that advanced to the 2011 NCAA Women’s Tournament. It will also have home games against Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Kentucky.
“Everyone has improved, and people have stepped up that did not get a lot of playing time last season,” said Rowe, last season’s SBC Freshman of the Year.
She added the tough non-conference schedule will help the team tremendously down the road when conference play starts Dec. 21 against Florida International.
However, the Lady Raiders are without three of its top players from last season, team leader Anne Marie Lanning, who graduated, Tina Stewart, who was allegedly murdered by her roommate, before the SBC conference tournament last season, and a starter from last season, Jordyn Luffman who left the team last week.
During the Oct. 25 SBC Media Days, MTSU head coach Rick Insell said he will be looking for several leaders this season to replace Lanning.
“I think this year our leadership is going to have to come by committee,” Insell said. “I think we have many voices on this team can lead in many different directions and that is what we are asking them to do.”
Three out of the past five years, the SBC has sent multiple teams to the NCAA’s, including last season, when Arkansas-Little Rock joined the Lady Raiders in the 64-team bracket. This season’s competition in the SBC will be no different.
“The programs that you look at from top to bottom, you never know which schools are going to step up,” Insell said. “You cannot look at any school and say that game is a definite win. All of the coaches know that you have to play hard no matter who you play. I feel like we have some of the best women’s basketball coaches here in the Sun Belt. It is a lot tougher for me to win inside the SBC than outside. Some of those teams outside the Sun Belt are just getting by on talent. While we have some talented players in this league, there are also some great coaches.”
Rowe added, the SBC as a whole is getting a lot more respect around the nation, because of its recent success in the NCAA Tournament.
The Lady Raiders will open the season at the Lady Lion Classic on the Penn State campus Nov. 11 against UNC Wilmington. The first home game will be Nov. 17 against South Dakota State.