Can this team repeat as SWAC champion?

Absolutely. The Jaguars have four starters back and were picked to win the regular-season title. The players have dedicated themselves to adding a Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title after a 72-43 semifinal loss to Prairie View last season. “This time, we’re looking forward to winning the SWAC championship and the tournament,” said senior Jasmine Jefferson, a preseason All-SWAC post player. Southern finished 20-8 and 16-2 last regular season, but the tourney loss drove the 10 returning players during the offseason.

Is there room for 4 newcomers to have an impact?

Coach Sandy Pugh has spoken highly of her incoming class and recently said “they’re pushing the seniors” during practice. The most experienced newcomer is junior Ashley Williams, who Pugh said “has an amazing ability to get to the cup and she’s tough as nails.” The other recruits are freshmen Briana Green, Taylor Mack and Micah Garvin. “The freshmen don’t look like freshmen,” Pugh said. “We’re really expecting great things from those three young ladies.”

Will Britney Washington move into starting unit?

Stay tuned. Washington provided a big lift off the bench last season and Pugh said she improved dramatically during the offseason. When asked if she was considering starting Washington, Pugh paused coyly before answering, “she’s going to play and I’m going to let her shoot it a lot.” Washington started the exhibition game against Dillard on Monday, but that doesn’t mean a final decision has been made.

Will the team’s style change any?

Somewhat. Pugh wants a faster tempo, saying the Jaguars became too deliberate at times late last season. That means better group rebounding and a greater determination to push the ball. Coleman’s face lit up when she talked about the new emphasis. “She wants us to push it as much as we can,” Coleman said of Pugh, “don’t give the defense a chance to catch up with us. She wants it to be a really fast-paced game with everybody.”

How about the schedule?

Southern is playing prominent programs on the road for healthy game guarantees. That usually doesn’t help the won-lost record, but it does accelerate the team’s development before the start of conference play. “We just look at it as preparing us for the SWAC,” Jefferson said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be a breeze in the SWAC, but it’ll be a little easier.” Southern visits Ole Miss, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona and Florida. “Hopefully, we can go in there and shock some people,” Pugh said.

-- Les East