With four returning starters and a big class of newcomers, the Southern Oregon women's basketball team heads into this weekend's Red Lion/SOU Season Opening Classic hoping to start strong and prepare for a competitive conference schedule.
Southern Oregon hosts the annual season-opening tournament today through Sunday at Bob Riehm Arena, with games at 5 and 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and the finale on Sunday at noon. The Raiders will play California Maritime in the 7 p.m. game today and take on New Hope Christian at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
"We're anxious for the season to get started," SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy said. "We've got a big weekend coming up. It should be a lot of fun basketball."
Four seniors will lead the way for SOU in 2012-13, with Krysten Copeland, Angelica Cahee, Haley Newell and Molly Doran looking to build on last season's 14-16 finish. Each senior has starting experience and played a crucial role on the 2011-12 team.
"We've got a good corps of seniors coming back this year," Kennedy said. "They've been working out really hard this summer and have been going at it pretty impressively in the fall as well."
Newell is the Raiders' top returning scorer after averaging 10.2 points per game last season, with Cahee adding 8.6 points per contest. Kiara Moore returns in the post after averaging 5.4 rebounds per game and Alexi Smith rejoins the team after missing the 2011-12 season. Smith averaged 11 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the Raiders two years ago.
"They should provide a really good inside presence for us and continue to develop as post players," Kennedy said of Moore and Smith.
A pair of NCAA Division I transfers lead the group of newcomers, as Melissa Sweat joins the team from San Diego State and Allison Gida returns to her hometown of Ashland after spending the past two seasons at the University of Utah. Both players will be juniors this season, and the SOU coach expects their top-level experience to provide a strong boost for the Raiders.
"They provide some quality Division I experience for us, coming in from programs that have been successful," Kennedy said. "They bring a high level of competition and should help us out on the wings and guard positions with their strength on the inside and shooting from the outside."
Katie Aguilar, Ashley Claussen, Carly Meister and Kristin Smeaton form a four-player freshman class this season. Kennedy points to their club experience as helping prepare them for the collegiate game and has high hopes for their ability to contribute this season.
"They're used to playing against really competitive teams and players, and that adds to our practices," Kennedy said. "We've had really intense sessions this fall and we're looking forward to seeing them grow as freshmen this year and give us quality time at key positions."
California Maritime will present a challenge in the season opener after the Keelhaulers twice defeated SOU in close games last season. New Hope Christian comes in as a new squad this year, but Kennedy says the Deacons added some strong talent for a first-year program and expects them to play tough as well.
The Raiders will also host the annual Flagship Inn Classic over Thanksgiving weekend, with NAIA Division I Lewis-Clark State coming to town along with NCAA Division III Top 25 program University of Puget Sound.
Kennedy believes this season's non-conference schedule is one of the toughest the Raiders have faced in his time at Southern Oregon, and he expects the experience to help prepare SOU for a difficult conference slate.
"We know that there's a lot of good teams in our conference," Kennedy said. "Everyone is going to be better, and there are a lot of good players."
Southern Oregon was picked to finish sixth in the preseason conference coaches' poll, with Eastern Oregon and defending CCC champion Corban claiming the top two spots. Gida and Sweat received some preseason recognition, as the conference coaches placed them on the preseason all-CCC team. Kennedy believes the team has a great opportunity to outperform the expectations of the conference coaches, and that all begins Friday against California Maritime.