SIUE Women's Basketball Opens Season Saturday
Nov. 9, 2011
EDWARDSVILLE, ILL. - The 2011-12 SIUE women's basketball season opens Saturday as the Cougars welcome Valparaiso to the Vadalabene Center for a 1 p.m. tip-off.
SIUE Head Coach Amanda Levens opens the season with eight returning letter winners and five newcomers. It is a roster that is young on paper but has a solid level of experience.
"This is the first year that our upperclassmen have experience for us as underclassmen. That's a huge difference in practice," said Levens.
It has been a welcome change for the fourth-year head coach who has had three seasons of developing young players. This season, the Cougars have five players who have been with the program for more than two seasons.
"They are able to be extensions of our coaching staff. They can relay our expectations in terms of intensity," Levens said.
The senior class consists of Madison Meade (Auburn, Calif.) and Melia Duncan (Folsom, Calif.). The duo has more than 160 games of experience between them. That gives the Cougars a pair of players who have been a part of the ups and downs of the Division I move.
"Madison and Melia have been an integral part of building this program. I can't say enough about their commitment to the team," said Levens.
Duncan has played in 87 games as a Cougar and is one of just seven players in school history to record 100 or more three-pointers in her career. She has averaged 8.1 points per game over the past three seasons.
Madison and Melia have been an integral part of building this program. I can't say enough about their commitment to the team.
--Head Coach Amanda Levens
"Both of them do such a great job with their abilities. They can do so many little things well. Melia has played the one through the five in her career. Madison has played one through the three. They're both tough as nails and are fantastic," said Levens.
The members of the junior class each have two years of experience except for Division I transfer Kiara Conner (Markham). The 6-foot junior sat out last season due to Division I transfer rules after coming to SIUE from Binghamton. Levens said she expects Conner to provide more scoring and rebounding.
"She gives us another scoring threat. She adds to the depth of the position down low," said Levens. Conner can play the power forward or center position and gives the Cougars flexibility against various opponents.
Raven Berry (Collinsville) enters her junior season after averaging 12.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game the first 57 games of her collegiate career.
"Raven had a great offseason. Her footwork is better, and her skills are better. She knew they had to be because people were going to key on her and take things away that she was already good at doing," said Levens. "I think she'll be ready to have a great season for us."
Michaela Herrod (Alton) has had strong second halves to both of her first two seasons, according to Levens. "Her challenge is to do that for both halves of the season. She's already a great defender and rebounder. As another scoring option, it will take the pressure off Raven and Jazmin (Hill)."
Courtney Kenner (St. Louis) picked up significant playing time last season and more than doubled her assist total from her freshman season. Levens said Kenner's role changed last season. "Courtney had to step up and be our defensive stopper. That was great experience for her."
SIUE's sophomore class made an immediate impact last season. Jazmin Hill (O'Fallon) became the prime target behind the three-point line as she broke the freshman record for treys with 74. Levens said Hill was challenged to find different ways to score on offense. "She had to add another dimension to her game because she was going to be a focal point," Levens said. "We've worked hard at developing different ways for her to score. It's going to be on her to have good poise and patience especially when teams are keying on her."
Sophomore post player Alyssa Decker (Moline) gained valuable experience as a freshman. She often was a go-to player for the Cougars. With additional depth at the post position, that will take pressure off the rest of the team.
"Having more depth is, hopefully, going to be good for us," said Levens.
The Cougars also found a welcome addition last season in Valerie Finnin (Mokena). The 5-8 guard gained a spot in the starting lineup nine times last season and pumped in a team-high 20 points against Cal State Bakersfield late in the season.
"She had a great second half last season. She has worked hard to get herself more opportunities," said Levens.
SIUE's freshman class already has made its mark on the team. Levens reported that newcomers Katie Hempen (Highland), a 5-8 guard, and Tierny Austin (Rockford), a 5-9 guard, are among the hardest working players in practice. Levens said usually there is an adjustment for freshman but not for this duo.
"Usually freshmen have to learn how to play at this level and work hard on every possession. That hasn't been the case with these two," Levens said. "Katie is very skilled and is tough as nails. Tierney wants the ball and she wants to get the rebound."
"Raven has made a lot of progress in the preseason. Her starting point was a little behind everyone else. We're hoping down the road she is somebody who is going to be a great post for us," said Levens.
"Kasi is a player with good skills that we recruited out of high school, and she decided to walk on after coming to SIUE. She got started late so she is still getting into the flow of play," Levens added.
The Cougars have three home games to start the season: Valparaiso, Ball State, and UIC. SIUE's first run through the Ohio Valley Conference begins on New Year's Eve against Jacksonville State. The Cougars will play a 16-game conference schedule.
"It all comes down to they have to come out, execute game plans, and win games," said Levens.