CONWAY — For all intents and purposes, the process of rejuvenating the Coastal Carolina women’s basketball program started a few years ago.
Eyeing a run to the NCAA tournament that had eluded his teams throughout his now 16-year tenure with the Chanticleers, coach Alan LeForce decided it was time for a youth movement. He didn’t want to allocate any more roster spots to patching holes here or there with junior college transfers. No, the Chants were going to bring in full freshmen recruiting classes to replenish the talent in the program, and they were going to tie the team’s prospects to how well that group could develop together.
So here the program is, without a single senior on the roster but with a core of players that have now spent a year or two growing together – and with an optimism that their collective maturation is ready to translate into some tangible progress toward those NCAA hopes.
“It’s not a quick fix,” LeForce said. “... This is the third year. These juniors have played pretty well. We’ve had probably the best preseason camp I’ve had. The competition has been good, our people have worked hard, so we’re shooting the ball better, we’re playing with more confidence.”
Of course, there is still plenty to prove for this team.
After finishing last in the Big South Conference standings during the 2010-11 season while going 10-19 overall, the Chants were 13-15 a year ago – including a dismal 1-11 road record.
They were picked seventh in the conference’s preseason coaches and media poll this season, meaning there isn’t much expectation around the rest of the league for the Chants to be much better.
But there is such hope internally. LeForce doesn’t see why this team can’t win at least 16-18 games and begin to climb up the standings, and regardless of outside opinion, the team’s young core believes it is indeed ready to make a leap.
“I think this year we have leaders and people that actually want to work hard and influence the younger players to work hard as well, and I think that’s going to carry on to the games,” junior forward Alexx Puckett said. “I think we just [don’t] want to repeat what we did last year or the year before that. Us being juniors, our two years being here have not been great and we just don’t want to repeat that.”
This remains a young team, though.
Only sophomore point guard Shatia Cole, the Myrtle Beach High School product who ranked second on the team in scoring at 10.5 per game, returns as a regular starter.
Puckett and junior Katelyn Connor, who combined for two starts last season, take over as the team’s starting post players and will carry a large burden for the Chants without much depth behind them.
Sophomore AJ Jordan and junior Kayla Cook will be the team’s starting wing players and will both need to take on a much larger role in the offense after averaging 5.4 and 5.2 points per game respectively last season.
Junior Angelica Henry will serve as the team’s backup point guard and an overall offensive spark while playing significant minutes, and the Chants will hope for some of the team’s other reserves to emerge as consistent contributors.
“We’re a young team, but we’ve all learned how to play together,” Cole said. “Our chemistry’s good so we should be pretty good this year.”
Looking back, this is kind of what LeForce envisioned when he and his coaching staff launched into this roster makeover three years in the making. The results on the court, though, will levy the ultimate verdict.
“I think it’s going to pay off,” LeForce said. “We’ll know this year or next year if it has or not.”
The Chants are still waiting for promising freshman Megan Pittman to start practicing with the team. The 5-foot-11 newcomer from Liberty, Ky., sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee during her senior high school season and then suffered a stress fracture in her opposite foot back in September. But there remains a lot of optimism in what she can potentially bring to the program.
“She was picked the No. 10 basketball player in the state of Kentucky,” LeForce said. “We thought we got a steal. Everyone was telling us, ‘We can’t believe you all got [her]. You got a steal.’ ... We need her. We need to get her. She’s a good scorer, good shooter.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.