The Southern women’s basketball team accomplished a lot last season.
It went 16-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference while winning its second consecutive regular-season title and advanced to the conference tournament championship game.
But the end of the season was a real bummer.
Not only were the Jaguars beaten handily by Alabama State (73-55), they went into the game knowing it was the last game for senior starters Kendra Coleman, Jasmine Jefferson and Bunny Scott.
Even if Southern had won the game, those players’ careers and the team’s season were still ending that day because of an NCAA postseason ban due to the submission of “unusable data” on student-athletes’ Academic Progress Rates.
“I just think that last game the seniors were actually of the mindset that this is our last game,” coach Sandy Pugh said. “I think they were really depressed about that to a degree. It was such a great run with those kids. I didn’t want to see it end, they didn’t want to see it end.
“I think the energy from that just wore us down. At the ,beginning we just soldiered up and did what we needed to do and really persevered. But toward the end, enough negative baggage will eventually wear on you.”
The ban was lifted in May, giving this year’s team, which begins the season by playing Spring Hill College on Friday night in the F.G. Clark Activity Center, a new beginning.
“It gives us more motivation to win SWAC,” junior forward Cortnei Purnell said. “That’s for sure.”
What’s less sure is exactly how quickly six veterans and nine newcomers will blend into a cohesive unit, though there’s plenty of talent on hand. Southern was picked third in the SWAC preseason poll.
But before the Jaguars can focus on the SWAC season, they must navigate an eight-game preconference schedule that includes trips to Nebraska, Kansas State, Iowa State, Maryland and Tulane.
“I think the (relative lack of experience) will take a toll on us the early part of the season,” Pugh said. “But come conference, I’m confident we’ll be as good as or better than last year.”
Pugh said the Jaguars are “a faster team” and one that “gained more toughness in the lane.”
She cited Purnell as someone who has played well in the preseason. Purnell and Briana Green, the SWAC Freshman of the Year last season, have to emerge as consistent scorers to supplement senior guard Britney Washington, who’ll miss the start of the season while her academic certification is completed, and post Miaya Crowder, a transfer from Meridian (Mississippi) Community College.
“Last year, I was more on the back burner because Jasmine Jefferson was here and Kendra Coleman was here,” Green said. “But this year, with those two being gone especially, I have to step up, be more of a leader, be more vocal on and off the court and be able to put the ball in the hoop.”
Green said Jefferson left “big shoes to fill.”
“I try to fill her shoes little by little,” Green said. “But I also try to make my own spotlight.”
Green said she has been struck by the level of confidence the newcomers have shown.
“Everybody has something different that they bring to the table, which is a good thing,” Green said. “We have more depth this year. We’re a very versatile team. We can do a lot.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.