By Chris King, Sports Editor —
With college basketball season here, the UTC women’s basketball team looks to continue its dominant reign in the Southern Conference.
Five straight SoCon Titles
After winning the SoCon regular season and tournament title for the fifth straight season, the Mocs were picked to finish second in the SoCon preseason polls coming into this season. The Mocs return three starters from last year’s team that fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Louisville. UTC graduated three seniors from last year’s tournament team.
“We are a young team this season, not as experienced,” said UTC Head Coach Jim Foster. “Last season we had one new starter and four returning starters that played a lot of minutes and played in championship games. This year, we have three returning starters, two of them have played in crucial games throughout their career. Evolving through change is what is going to determine our success this year.”
Coming into the 2017-18, the Mocs have three returning seniors. The sister duo of Keiana Gilbert and Aryanna Gilbert will be the senior leaders for the Mocs. Keiana topped 1,000 career points in the loss to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament and was named third team All-SoCon last season. So far in her career, Aryanna averages 5.1 points per game and 2.6 rebounds per game. She scored a season-high 11 points in UTC’s win over Mercer in the SoCon Tournament final.
“You can’t predetermine leaders before the season,” said coach Foster. “Determining leaders evolves differently with each group. Our eyes are open and hopefully our player’s ears are open.”
Last season, the Mocs graduated Jasmine Joyner who ranked third in the nation in blocked shots and was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Year and SoCon Tournament MVP. Joyner ended her career with a SoCon record 436 blocks over four years. Sophomore Arianne Whitaker, Cincinnati, Ohio, will look to fill the void that Joyner left in the paint. Whitaker played at Winthrop during her freshman season and she led the team with 56 blocks. Whitaker was also named Big South Freshman of the Year three times during her freshman season at Winthrop.
“Arianne Whitaker will pick up the slack at center,” said coach Foster. “We hope to have a three-headed center with a lot of different looks to give us more depth there then we have had in the past.”
In the backcourt, the Mocs return three crucial pieces with the Gilbert sisters and sophomore Lakelyn Bouldin, Spencer, Tennessee. Last season, Bouldin was named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team and SoCon All-Tournament Second Team. Bouldin posted a UTC freshman record for three-pointers in a season with 64 and ranked second in the SoCon for three-point percentage last season
“We are solidified at point guard with Keiana [Gilbert],” said Coach Foster. “Lakelyn will be an off guard, and we are still determining who will be the third starting guard in our three-guard system.”
The Mocs have five freshmen on the roster coming into the 2017-18 season. Mya Long, Chattanooga, Jacobi Lynn, Tellico Plains, Tennessee, Bria Dial, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Brooke Burns, Gadsden, Alabama, and Rochelle Lee, Memphis, Tennessee, will all compete for playing time as the season progresses.
“Our five freshman are extremely talented,” said coach Foster. “The adjustment to college is significant and a couple of them are struggling with that adjustment. A couple of them are ready to help us right now.”
Like the past few seasons, the Mocs made an emphasis to schedule tough non-conference opponents in order to better prepare the team for SoCon and tournament play. The Mocs go on the road to open the season against Green Bay on Nov. 11 and then the Mocs host UCF on Nov. 13 at Maclellan Gym for UTC’s first home game. The Mocs also face tough opponents throughout the season such as the following: at Indiana, a neutral site tournament against Northwestern, Georgetown, Auburn, vs Virginia Tech, at Florida Gulf Coast and at Florida.
“If you’re going to be a good tournament team in March, you have to play people that play at that time of the year and know what it means,” said coach Foster about scheduling tough non-conference opponents. “We schedule tough opponents in order to better prepare us to play our best basketball around tournament time.”