By Russell Moore
Special To The Times
Wallace State’s nationally-ranked women’s basketball team enters the 2013-14 season with an experienced backcourt and depth throughout the entire roster.
Third-year coach Ron Burdette feels it’s a collection of talent capable of helping the No. 16 Lady Lions remain a strong state contender. And, if the right pieces fall into place, one with enough potential to make the program’s first national tournament appearance in three seasons.
“We’re in a better position from an experience level than we were last year. We basically played last season with two sophomores and that’s tough. It took us a while to grow up because many of our players didn’t know how to win on the college level,” said Burdette, the 2013 ACCC North Coach of the Year. “I like our mentality and position entering this year. Every player on our roster is going to have a chance to contribute. We already have some leaders on this team and we struggled with that last year.”
Wallace State closed last season at 23-10, finishing ACCC runner-up for the second consecutive season after winning the 2011 title.
Jaylan Snowden highlights the six sophomores returning for the Lady Lions this season. Snowden, a 5-foot-8 Mobile native, was a second-team All-ACCC selection after averaging nine points per game and dishing out a team-high 5.7 assists. She was also second on the team with 63 steals.
Snowden developed into Wallace State’s go-to scorer down the stretch last season and is primed to elevate her game even more in 2013-14.
“Jaylan has put the team on her back in the preseason. She’s our leader and backs it up on the court,” Burdette said. “Jaylan is obsessed with winning and succeeding. She came back this summer and got stronger in the weight room. She is a year older and making better decisions because she has been through the grind. Jaylan’s going to have a great opportunity to continue her career once she leaves her. She’s one of those players who may be good enough to go play overseas.”
Locust Fork grad Brandee Busenlehner is back in the Wallace State backcourt after nailing 41 3-pointers as a freshman, tying her teammate Morgan Pearson for the club lead. DeAndrea Carter, a Georgia native, and Hannah Sharpe will also provide valuable minutes in the backcourt. Carter averaged 4.2 points last season, while Sharpe finished with 64 assists and 54 steals.
Pearson and fellow sophomore Jasmine Coleman will make up a new-look Wallace State frontcourt after the departure of Ashley Nance, who concluded her career as a NJCAA honorable mention All-American and ACCC Player of the Year.
Pearson, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, was Wallace State’s third-leading scorer last season behind Nance and Snowden, averaging 8.2 points per game. She’ll be asked to raise her efforts to a new level as well and should serve as a versatile option in the post and on the wing.
Coleman returns after establishing herself as one of the team’s leading rebounders. She collected 7.1 boards a game and added 6.5 points per game, 59 steals and a team-high 53 blocks.
Cullman grad Morgan Smith joins the Lady Lions as one of the team’s most intriguing freshmen. At 5-foot-11, she also has the capabilities of serving as a legitimate threat in the paint or on the perimeter.
“I really wanted to put an emphasis on post play during recruiting. As long as I can remember, we’ve had great shooters. We needed to add depth down low. Like Morgan Pearson, Morgan Smith can play inside or step out and hit a 3-pointer,” Burdette said. “We’re going to need valuable minutes from Morgan Smith, Molly Thompson and Haven Albright. All of those girls have gotten better since they’ve been here, but you don’t know when they’ll totally get it. They’ll have a breakout game or a breakout week and never look back.”
Thompson is a freshman forward from Priceville and Albright is a Lexington native.
Amber Carey and Ashley Rodgers, two postseason-tested players from Fairfield High, are also welcome additions to the squad.
“When Amber Carey gets on a roll, she’s probably the purest shooter on the team. Ashley Rodgers can play anywhere and is tough. She’s only 5-6, but she had to play in the post at Fairfield and always held her own,” Burdette said.
Freshmen Morgan Handy and Shantay Baldwin will also serve as valuable role players off the bench.
Burdette has compiled a 45-19 record during his two seasons at the helm. Jessica Bailey will serve as a first-year assistant.
Wallace State’s home opener is Nov. 7 vs. Northeast Mississippi CC. The Lady Lions’ conference opener is Jan. 16 vs. Gadsden State.
“We’ve obviously got a long way before we can think about this, but as is the case every year, our goal is to win the conference and cut down the nets in March,” Burdette said.