September 27, 2000
Southern Illinois University Carbondale's women's basketball team brings unlimited potential to the hardwood floor for its 2000-01 season as the Salukis begin a new era under first-year head coach Lori Opp. Although this season marks Opp's third year with the program, one thing is for certain -- she is on a mission to get the team back to its winning ways.
And with the return of three starters and nine letterwinners, and the addition of five newcomers, there is no reason why Opp shouldn't be able to accomplish that feat.
Despite being foreseen as one of the Valley's younger teams, Southern Illinois will take its eight underclassmen this season and blend them with its handful of talented and experienced veterans in efforts to produce a finely-tuned unit capable of bettering its 8-20, 5-13 mark from a year ago.
In the midst of all the challenges and expectations that lie ahead for Opp and her crew, however, the one thing that sticks out most is that this year's squad, indeed, has the ability to be one well-oiled machine.
A pair of sophomores in Molly McDowell and Lynn Morancie return this season to help solidify a backcourt that will see some new faces.
McDowell made an impressive debut in her rookie season shooting a sizzling 77 percent from the free throw line which ranked second on the team. McDowell's ability to see the court well and play good defense enabled her to lead the Salukis in both steals (39) and assists (82), while finishing second in blocks (9).
Morancie, who saw limited action in 21 games last season, will be joined by the new addition of junior transfer Holly Teague as the duo will battle for the point job since any one of the three has the ability to fill the role.
"The point guard position will be a competitive battle between the two newcomers, Marqita and Holly, and a much improved sophomore Lynn Morancie," said Head Coach Lori Opp. "Our depth at this position will really help the team."
Senior Terica Hathaway looks to be a threat in the Missouri Valley Conference again this season as she returns for her final year as a Saluki. Hathaway led the Dawgs in scoring with an average of 11.0 points per game while shooting 70 percent (42-60) from the free throw line. Additionally, she finished third in both assists (50) and steals (30).
Assisting Hathaway on the perimeter will be senior Courtney Smith. Smith, whose foot injury limited her to just 16 games last season, appears to be healthy for the 2000-01 campaign and should be able to contribute immediately. Smith averaged 4.2 points per game in her 16 appearances while adding 15 steals and 30 assists.
"Courtney Smith appears to be healthy after undergoing off-season ankle surgery," said Opp. "Although Smith has been hampered by injuries throughout her SIU career, she is looking forward to her senior year."
Rounding out the perimeter is the freshman duo of Angela Tolbert and Jennifer Wegley who will also bid for playing time on the wing. Tolbert has a natural ability to slash to the basket and score while Wegley seems to be a natural leader with a do-anything-you-ask type work ethic.
The Salukis will have to do some adjusting in the post as junior forward Maria Niebrugge leaves a gap to fill after undergoing off-season knee surgery.
"Maria Niebrugge is battling a knee injury and will see limited action early in the season," commented Opp. "Our training staff will work diligently to get her back to 100 percent."
On the flipside, senior Kristine Abramowski, returns as the Salukis' center, to provide a spark in what should be a potent inside attack.
Averaging 6.3 points per game while grabbing 6.6 rebounds last season, Abramowski finished as SIU's leading shot-blocker (29) and fourth highest assists leader (42).
While Abramowski sports an intimidating presence on the block with her 6-3 frame, junior Geshla Woodard (6-0), and sophomore Katie Berwanger (6-0) also return to give the Salukis some size underneath.
Woodard, who is coming off a productive summer, contributed solid play off the bench last season shooting 40 percent from the field and 63 percent from the free throw line. Berwanger, on the other hand, is focused and will also look to add spunk inside the paint.
"Having flexibility at this position will allow two players (Geshla and Katie) to gain valuable experience," added Opp. "They came back very focused on the season after making great strides in their individual skill development."
Sophomore Danielle Lawary (6-0) then caps off the host of returning players to the post this season. For Lawary, conditioning will be a key to her success this season.
In addition to the five returnees, freshmen Tiffany Crutcher and Jodi Heiden will be relied on to contribute immediately.
"This team has the dedication, leadership and chemistry to succeed," Opp concluded. "The coaching staff has been very impressed with the team's intensity and enthusiasm for the season. Their drive and determination will be essential factors in the team's success."
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