2003-2004 Women's Basketball Preview
Nov. 6, 2003
In the squad's first season under the direction of head coach B.J. Smith, the Otahkian's climbed to their best performance since joining the Ohio Valley Conference and the ranks of Division I competition 12 years ago. The team posted a 19-11 overall record and an 11-5 record in the OVC. The team registered its highest-ever league finish, second in the OVC, advancing to the finals of the OVC post-season championship for the first time ever before falling in the final game. Southeast also finished the season ranked 14th in that nation in scoring offense with an average of 75.7 points per game.
Coming into the season last year, coach Smith's vision was to bring a winning attitude to the Show Me Center and put up some new banners in the rafters. Last year's team rose to the occasion, bringing a winning season and a winning attitude to the court. The team fell just short of their goal of winning the OVC championship and making the NCAA tournament, but the bar has been raised and the team returns to complete some "unfinished business."
Last year's young squad made an outstanding impact in the conference. In the first year for the OVC Newcomer of the Week award, Southeast claimed the award eight out of the twelve weeks it was awarded. Newcomers Kenja White and Carina Souza led the way as they each claimed the award twice.
This season Southeast will be one of the more experienced squads in the conference when the ball goes up on the 2003-2004 season, as the Otahkian's return four starters among seven letterwinners. In addition, two more transfers from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Brandi Russia and Sami Jo Cotton, join former junior college teammates Kenja White, Carina Souza, and Miah Shelford, to continue their basketball careers under coach Smith.
In a pre-season survey of the league's top officials, Southeast has been tabbed to win the OVC title for the first time in school history. Senior guard Kenja White was selected as a pre-season first team selection and Carina Souza was selected as a pre-season second team selection.
Leading the squad this season is senior guard Kenja White, who was named OVC Newcomer of the Year last year, in its inaugural season, and All-OVC honorable mention as a junior college transfer. She led the scoring attack last season for the Otahkians, averaging 13.9 points per game, ranking her ninth in the league. She started in all 30 contests, registering seven 20-plus scoring efforts as she recorded 21 double-digit performances. Versus Indiana State, she netted a career-high 26 points.
Carina Souza, who also earned All-OVC honorable mention, will play a key role for the Otahkians again this season. After making the switch from junior college last season, she led the team and ranked fifth in the conference with a 53.1 field goal percentage. Her 53.1 percentage ranks her 10th in the school season record books. Souza also scored in double-digits 21 times, started in all 30 game, and pumped-in a career-high 26 points against Gardner-Webb. She cleared a career-best 11 boards at Eastern Illinois.
Senior guard Sarah Costello will resume point guard duties as she started 22 of 25 games played last season as a junior college transfer. She came in second in the league in steals last season as she led the team with 69 on the season, 2.8 per game. Costello was also fifth in the conference in assists as she averaged 3.9 per game. Throughout the season she twice dished out a career-high 11 helpers and scored her career-best 18 points against Morehead State.
Super quick guard Tiffane Ryan will look to pick up where she left off last season, starting 20 of 30 games played last season as a true freshman. Ryan ranked right behind Costello last season in assists as she had 91 on the season, averaging more than three per game and ranking ninth in the conference. She recorded a career-best seven steals against Oakland City last winter. Last season she also recorded a 78 percent free-throw average which ranks her 10th in school history for a season.
Returning for her senior season, Yashika Sidbury will make a significant impact in the forward position. Last season she led the team with 51 three-pointers, ranking seventh in the league, and a 35.4 three-point percentage, good for sixth in the OVC. She recorded a career-high 36 points versus Quinnipiac along with clearing 14 rebounds to record the double-double. She also sunk a career-high 15 free throws in that match-up. Her 84.7% free throw percentage earned her the highest percentage on the team as she recorded the sixth best season percentage in the history of the Southeast program.
Miah Shelford returns in the forward position as a junior. As a junior college transfer last season, Shelford started 5 of her 24 games played. She averaged the most blocks per game on the squad and brought down a career-best nine boards versus Eastern Illinois.
Shannon Proffit returns for her sophomore campaign in the forward position. She will challenge the returning starters for playing time as a consistent off-the-bench player last season, playing in 29 of the team's 30 games.
The team also features five extremely talented newcomers who will challenge for playing time. Freshman guard Jessica Aebi enters as the only freshman on the team, shooting 45 percentage from the field during her senior year. Aebi is a very smart and aggressive true point guard, who is extremely intense and is a leader on the floor. She has a very competitive drive and will challenge for significant playing time.
Southeast landed one of the most highly touted recruits in junior center Chandra Brown, a very athletic post player. At Southeastern Illinois College, Brown averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field and over 80 percent from the free-throw line. She was also selected as a second team All-America selection last season.
Rejoining Smith from NEO, are junior guards Brandi Russia and Sami Jo Cotton. Russia averaged 10.1 points, 3.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds during her final year at NEO under Smith. She was an NJCAA Honorable Mention All-American selection that season. Russia was selected as the NJCAA Region II Player of the Year and was named an All-American in her freshman season at NEO, as she led the team in scoring. Sami Jo Cotton is a deadly 3-point threat from anywhere on the court, as she shot 46 percent from behind the arc last season at NEO. She has worked with coach Smith's system before and knows how it works, so she'll be able to step up right away and play a major role at the guard position.
The squad was also lucky to pick up a late addition, sophomore forward Melissa Anthony, who will add depth to the talented back-court. As a freshman last year at Dodge City Anthony played extremely well in the post, helping the team tie the school record for the most wins in a season with a 22-10 record, before a season-ending injury.
Southeast will play arguably the toughest schedule in school history as they kick off their 2003-04 campaign early, traveling to Salt Lake City Utah on Nov. 14 for its first appearance in the Preseason Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). The field includes 16 of last years' top 25 programs and seven teams that made the NCAA Tournament appearances. The Utes were a Top 25 team and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tourney before falling to Duke 65-54.
The schedule doesn't get any easier from there as the team will compete amongst strong competition in the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Thanksgiving Classic and the Texas-San Antonio New Year's Classic. Headlining the competition in these two tournaments will be their match-up against Kansas State University. Last season K-state posted an overall record of 29-5 as they made it to the second round of the NCAA Tourney. The team finished the season ranked eighth in the nation by the Associated Press and 10th by USA Today.
Southeast has a very demanding and challenging non-conference schedule this season. The team will face five teams, which made NCAA tournament appearances last season. The Otahkians will also face four nationally ranked teams. Kansas State, Utah, Oklahoma, and Southwest Missouri State have all been ranked in the top 25 of numerous pre-season polls. Kansas State is ranked third in the nation by Athlon, while Oklahoma is ranked as high as tenth in the nation by SLAM Magazine. Facing these competitors will help the program to gain exposure and help them prepare for their tough conference slate.
"We are looking forward to the chance to play some of the top programs in the country," said head coach B.J. Smith.
"Since I got here, I said my ultimate goal was to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and I believe this is a step in the right direction," Smith said. "We have to be prepared for not only the NCAA Tournament, but also our own OVC Tournament and playing teams like these, will help us out for that goal."