The North Greenville Women's Basketball Team will take the court tonight in Hayes Gymnasium for the 2014-2015 season opener with a mix of new and old faces returning to the floor. Jayne Arledge's crew welcomes back eight returners to a squad that went 10-17 overall last season.
The Crusaders lack "star power" this season, which isn't a bad thing. "We don't have a star player this year, which is great," said Jayne Arledge. "We feel like everyone who plays for us will play a role in the team's success. There are about six different players we feel could score 20 points on a given night, but everyone will need to be productive for us to be successful."
Among the returners to this year's squad are three players who played in at least 25 games throughout last season's campaign. Sophomore Emily Wampler and seniors Timisty Nelson and Alisha Hope will look to lead NGU into its third consecutive Conference Carolinas' playoff birth. Add to the mix junior Tyler Powers who sat out most of last season with an injury and the Crusaders look to have the ingredients to accomplish several team goals for this upcoming season.
"As a group, we set a few goals. We want to host the first round of the Conference Carolinas tournament, we want to win 20 games, and we want to go to the NCAA Tournament in March." One of the keys to the team's success this season will be the play of senior Timisty Nelson, who returns as the team's leading scorer for the second season in a row. As a junior last season, Nelson amassed a career high 393 points from the forward position, and was also the squads leading rebounder. Her 16 blocks and 41 steals also maker her one of NGU's biggest threats on defense.
Fellow senior Alisha Hope will also be looked upon by Crusader fans as one of the team's biggest scoring threats, and playmakers. Hope's midrange jump shop makes her an offensive threat away from the rim, but she can also play underneath, and was second on the team in rebounding last season with 160, an average of 6.2 per game. Both Hope and Nelson ranked tops in the league in points per game, as Nelson ranked in at fifth, scoring 14.6 points per game, while Hope's 14.1 finished her in seventh. Hope finished with 367 points on the season.
Emily Wampler enters the season in an unusual spot for a sophomore. As the team leader in three pointers last season, Wamper enters the 14-15 campaign having played in 26 of North Greenville's 27 games last season, ranking her 32nd in minutes in Conference Carolinas as a freshmen. Wampler entered her freshmen season last year, looking to take a spot as a role player, but after injuries to two projected starters, founder herself as the starting point guard for the Crusaders. Learning on the go, she dished out 72 assists on the season to go along with 138 points and was fourth on the team in free throw percentage cashing out at 70 percent. "Emily's maturation was mostly independent of Tyler's absence. Emily was forced to play early at that point, and really developed as the season went on. She deserves a ton of credit for her growth as a leader."
NGU struggled from the three point line last season, shooting just 32 percent from down town, but the return of Tyler Powers should add some fire power to the outside shooting game. Powers injured her hand at the midway point of last season, but was the Crusaders biggest threat from beyond the arch up until that point. Powers scored 117 points before her injury, including four games in which she scored at least 13 points and one game where she scored 23.
"It means a lot to have Tyler back this season," remarked assistant coach Ross Jolly, who enters his second season with the program. "She works very hard and opens up a lot of offense for us, even when she's not getting her shot."
The Crusaders will also rely on several players who came off of the bench last season, including Diovonnie Powell, Ciara Suggs, Kortney Haley, and Amber Martin. All four were key role players last season, and look to make more of an impact last season. Diovonnie Powell returns as the leading bench player from last season, playing in 14 games.
North Greenville will also welcome five new freshmen to the squad this season, and one new coach. Former Baylor player Mariah Chandler will assume the role of Graduate Assistant this season after finishing her undergrad in Film and Digital media. "All four of our available freshmen will play significant minutes for us this year," says Arledge. "They will be given a great opportunity to start their careers by being on the court early, hopefully each one makes an impact for us."
The Crusaders will open the season tonight in Hayes Gymnasium against the University of North Georgia in the Conference Carolinas Peach Belt Challenge. NGU will wrap up the tournament weekend tomorrow against Francis Marion.