2014-15 was a year of transition for the Clayton State Lakers. Legendary head coach Dennis Cox left for San Francisco State after a 10-year career at CSU that saw him go 267-57 while winning the 2011 National Championship behind a 35-1 record. Cox’s long time assistant — and Lakers’ Women’s Basketball alum — Kaleena Coleman was named Interim Head Coach.
“Anytime you have an Interim tag in front of your title, pressure is associated with it,” Coleman said. “We felt pressure all last season. The transition from assistant to head was smooth but with added responsibilities. I always felt that I learned from the best though. Coach Cox was a great boss, teacher, and mentor, still to this day.”
Coleman led a roster of unfamiliar faces to a 17-12 record, their worst record since the Cox era began after a 10-win 2003-04 season.
“Last season was filled with adversity. We had injuries, eligibility issues, and personal reasons. We didn't make excuses, just competed each game at our best ability. I was proud of last season’s team. They had some fight in them. This year we have depth. We felt complete. From day one this team has accepted the challenge to work hard, compete, and win. Now, we just need to finish.”
Coleman shed the interim head coach tag this season and almost instantly Clayton State was back on track. It was a new year, a year that many pegged the Lakers as finishing sixth in a very competitive Peach Belt Conference. But that never changed Coleman’s optimism for what her current team was capable of achieving, as they prepare to play Wednesday night in a game that will decide their division.
“We are right on course of where I hoped to be, competing for a PBC Championship,” Coleman said. “The preseason poll was just motivation used for my players and myself. I was happy the target wasn't on our backs.”
Clayton State came out rolling. The were up and down the nation’s Top 25 behind a 16-1 start. Their only blemish heading into the end of January was an early season loss to Lubbock Christian University — now tied as the No. 1 team in the country.
They would run into a bump in the road, dropping three consecutive road games heading into February, concluding with a loss to the PBC favorite Columbus State Cougars. The Cougars defeated Clayton State by 11 points.
“That three game road trip was rough and exhausting,” Coleman said. “We are playing in a very tough PBC, where the team's record doesn't indicated how good or bad a team really is. Any team on any night could step up and win against anyone.
“After the road trip we had to have a self-check, reevaluating ourselves individually and as a team. We learned that every team will give us their best effort and we must match or exceed their energy. We believe after every dark cloud the sun will shine. I just hope that was our last dark cloud.”
They have not lost since.
The Lakers have won five consecutive games by double figures. They have done it behind an incredibly balanced attack. No player on the team has more than 10.3 points per game. Senior DeQuenna Moore leads the unselfish bunch that sees eight players averaging over 17 minutes a night and seven players chipping in more the six points a contest.
“With our style of play and tempo, depth is important,” Coleman said. “We would like to press for 40 minutes and run in transition. Having players coming off the bench and not missing a beat offensively or defensively is a blessing. Our players feed off each other and the coaches so that's what make us go. If the energy level is high, it's great to watch.”
Now, they face their ultimate challenge and the final test to return to the heights that the Lakers once climbed. Not only do they look to avenge their last loss, Columbus State — the defending PBC Champion and No. 24 team in the nation — come into Morrow, Georgia Wednesday night in a game that will decide the West Division and quite likely the PBC.
Columbus State is led by Michelle Mitchell. Mitchell is the reigning PBC Co-Player of the Year, and could very well win it again as she leads the Conference in scoring at 19.6 points a night, good for 19th in the country. Junior Ashley Asouzu also gave the Lakers trouble in their last meeting as she put up a double-double that night.
“I wouldn't do anything differently from the first time we played Columbus,” Coleman said. “Our game plan was effective. We just need to make sure we execute, and be mentally and physically tough.
“The players will be very excited with it being senior night and that we are playing for a Conference Championship. We wouldn't have it any other way, knowing that it will be a challenge against a talented, tough opponent in Columbus State. We control our destiny.”
Limestone on the verge of an undefeated season
With a 58-49 victory Tuesday evening against North Greenville, the Limestone Saints — the No. 3 team in the country — are a mere one game away from an undefeated season. Standing in their way are the King Tornado.
Limestone traveled to Bristol, Tennessee two weeks ago to take on King — who sit in second place with a 16-5 record in the Conference Carolinas — and barely escaped with a 66-64 victory, their closest margin of victory of the season. Saints’ junior Jasmine Kearse — whose 21 points a night leads the CC and is fifth in the nation — was held in check scoring a mere 15 points in the last contest.
After compiling a 34-2 record and a trip to the Final Four last season, and undefeated run in 2015-16 would propel Limestone amongst the elite of DII Women’s Basketball. The Saints look to make program history Friday night at 5:30 PM.
St. Leo Lions come out roaring
The St. Leo softball team may not have appeared in the NFCA Top 25 Preseason Poll, but they are certainly playing some of the best softball in the nation right now. The Lions sit at 9-0 on the young season as they prepare to open their Sunshine State Conference schedule with a three game series against Nova Southeastern this coming weekend.
The Lions — who were projected to win the SSC — opened their season with a clean sweep through the Eckerd Tournament, winning all four of their games. They defeated Shorter — the preseason No. 3 — 6-2 and Florida Tech — ranked No. 14 in the preseason poll — 14-0 along the way.
They have been on an absolute tear since, posting five shutouts in their last seven games. The Lions have outscored their opponents 60-6 on their current nine game winning streak, behind an SSC best .378 team batting average. A large part of that is due to the arm of junior Stephanie Adkins.
Adkins took home her second SSC Pitcher of the Week award of the young season this past week behind her first no-hitter of the season. She defeated Embry-Riddle this past Friday in her fourth complete game of the season, including her third straight shutout. The righty struck out 10 in the performance, bringing her total to 37 on the season.
Adkins 0.25 ERA leads a St. Leo’s pitching staff that sits atop the SSC with an astounding combined ERA of 0.34. Along with senior Alana Tabel and sophomore Samantha Tyler, the Lions have combined for an SSC best five shutouts.