HANCEVILLE — Despite growing pains last season, Wallace State’s women’s basketball team closed the campaign with their fourth appearance in the conference championship game since 2012.
Wallace State hopes to build upon that momentum during the 2016-17 season and take an additional step. The Lady Lions’ season opener is Friday at home as they host Andrew (Ga.) College at 5:30 p.m.
Unlike last year, Wallace State now has a solid core of sophomores to lean upon.
Jasmine Hollis, Morgan Higgins and Jemaiya Lee return in the post for the Lady Lions, while guards Alex Lowery, Janese Richardson and Kelsey Houston are also back in the fold.
“I think the experience we have coming back is a boost. We’ve got sophomores who are leading the right way, and some of the freshmen are falling in line," said Wallace State coach Ron Burdette. "I’m pleased with where we’re at as a team. I love the dynamic of this team and the balance we have between our freshmen and sophomores. We took some lumps last year with 13 freshmen, but I think that experience is going to pay off this season.”
Hollis, a Georgia native, averaged 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds for Wallace State last season, while Higgins, a Tennessee native, added 5.5 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Burdette has also added Ahziala Wright, a 6-foot-2 transfer from San Jacinto College-North, as another option to use in the paint.
In the backcourt, Lowery, a Pinson Valley grad, returns to the Lady Lions after averaging 6.7 points per game as a freshman and handing out a team-high 77 assists.
Houston, a 5-foot-7 sophomore from Tanner, made the ACCC All-Tournament Team as a freshman for Wallace State and averaged 5.8 points per game, serving as one of the team’s top 3-point threats.
Richardson’s season debut will be pushed back a bit after recovering from a knee injury. She led the Lady Lions by averaging 8.5 points per game last season.
Burdette, who enters his sixth season with a 114-50 career record at Wallace State, wanted to build the team’s depth in the offseason, including becoming more versatile across the board.
“We’re definitely deeper this year and more athletic and faster than we were last year. I think we have a great skill set at multiple positions where we can mix and match and be hard to guard. Our point guards are comfortable playing at a small forward and vice versa,” Burdette said. “I wanted players who want to get better, and I think this group from top to bottom wants to get better. They want to be a team, and their work ethic is impressive. They work hard every day. It may not always be perfect, but they keep plugging along until they get it done.”
Burdette expects freshman forward Joy Sadler, from Gardendale, to have a big impact on the team this year and praised the preseason work of freshman forward Taylor Hollingsworth, a 5-foot-10 Hanceville product, who was a Class 3A third-team All-State selection as a high school senior. Tennessee natives Karlie Hudson and Alexis Osteen, both freshmen, should also provide quality depth in the backcourt.
“All of the freshmen have come in and made an impact,” Burdette said. “Right now, we truly are a team. They hang together and they pull for each other. There is no animosity or jealousy.”
Rounding out the roster are Sydney Powell (Ramsay High) Alexis Cooper (Cordova), Marquise Cobbs (Baker), Jaishala Seal (Detroit) and Gabby Hill (Hewitt-Trussville).
Wallace State was picked to finish second in the Alabama Community College Conference by the league's coaches during the during the preseason.
Jessica McBrayer, a former Lady Lion, enters her third season as assistant coach.