Three full-time starters return -- experienced Trojans seek higher finish
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 15, 2004 1:55 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Wendy Lawrence is not ready to jump and yell "Fear the Trojans" quite yet, but the fifth-year Mount Olive College coach knows that CVAC rivals realize that her program is on the rise.
Three Trojans return, including fifth-year senior Ladora Charles, which prompted league coaches to pick the Trojans fifth in the preseason conference poll. It's the highest preseason ranking in program history since the school gained Division II status in 1995.
"That's respectable, compared to how we've been seeded in the past few years," Lawrence said. "Hopefully we've gained some respect from our conference opponents and coaches. But, by no means are we settling for that pick.
"Things started coming together for us last year and I hope we're building on that. We do have some young freshmen, but the returning players understand the system and that helps bolster our leadership."
Former guard Brandy Smith is now a graduate assistant, which helps keep some leadership on the bench. Charles could have graduated last spring, but opted to stay in school and pursue a double major. Having the court-savvy 5-foot-6 guard remain in the system keeps a steady, smart ball-handler in the backcourt.
Charles, a second-team all-Carolinas Virginia Athletics Conference selection last season, averaged 15.3 points per game and shot 82.8 percent at the free throw line. She'll be called upon to play point guard at times since LeAnn Simms has not fully recovered from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery in mid-April.
Simms has undergone intensive rehabilitation since returning to school and has improved daily. However, she's waiting for her doctor to clear her to play. Lawrence isn't sure when that will happen.
"That is a big setback," Lawrence said. "I don't think a lot of schools know she is coming back and that might be a surprise element for us.
"It's great. Will be nice to have her out there playing in a relaxed state."
Don't think the Trojans are suffering in the backcourt.
Junior Anita Rogers, a former News-Argus player of the year, sophomore Tilah Worthy, senior Shenetta Moye and junior Chasity Oxendine return. Lawrence said Rogers has worked hard in the offseason and brings an aggressive, up-tempo attitude -- comparable to Charles -- to the court.
Oxendine sustained a stress fracture during volleyball season and could possibly return for the Trojans' CVAC opener Dec. 4 against Erskine (S.C.) College. Worthy saw limited playing time a year ago. Moye, who started 14 games last season, has increased her level of play.
"We're still a little anxious about what is going to happen at the point spot," Lawrence said. "That's been a big thing for us the last three years -- getting stability at the point."
Mount Olive had the sixth-best scoring offense (67.9 ppg) in the CVAC a year ago. The Trojans ranked among the top five in four team categories -- field-goal percentage (41.5), second-chance points (10.1 pgg), free throw percentage (68.6) and offensive rebounds per game (17).
Despite the strong free throw percentage, the Trojans ranked last in free throw attempts (11.6) per game. Lawrence said creating more scoring opportunities in the paint is a priority this season.
Opponents abandoned their man-to-man defensive schemes when second-half play began in the CVAC. The Trojans failed to make the adjustments offensively and had at least two contests where they didn't attempt a free throw.
"We do have problems at times of not attacking the basket a lot," said Lawrence, whose team lost eight games by two possessions or less a year ago. "In the past, we haven't had a strong halfcourt offense against the zone. We've worked a lot against the zone attack.
"Last year, Tanika (Hudgins) and Ladora would really take it to the basket."
Hudgins, who averaged eight points an outing, isn't back this season. Lawrence has moved 5-8 sophomore forward Melanie Cobb to the perimeter and hopes her slashing style of play will present problems for opponents. Cobb should fill Hudgins' spot and add a much-needed dimension to the Trojans' zone offense.
Lawrence says the Trojans will be better inside the paint.
Harvey recorded at least 10 double-doubles a year ago, while Boone earned the status of "Iron Woman" by starting all 28 games. Neither is particularly stocky in build, but their athleticism compensates for their lack of size against bulkier players.
Junior Heidi Busch, an All-American in volleyball, is among the post players expected to play key roles this season. Lawrence signed freshmen Seirra Taylor (5-11) and Sierra Medeiros (6-2) in the offseason to help returning senior Amber Hill.
"We've addressed the issues we saw as weaknesses from last year. We've strengthened our inside game to get more three-point opportunities in the paint," Lawrence said. "Sierra and Heidi are both physical players compared to last year's inside game, which we had more finesse and face-the-basket type player, which caused us not to be fouled much.
"We've added players who have a different style who will compliment our two returners (Harvey, Boone)."
Mount Olive led the CVAC in turnovers per game (23) last season. Lawrence expects high numbers in her up-tempo scheme and doesn't get concerned unless the turnovers are unforced in the halfcourt game. But patience is a key when the opposition coerces the Trojans into a halfcourt offense.
Worthy came off the bench to shoot nearly 38 percent from 3-point range last season. Rogers hit 33 percent of her long-range shots and Charles hovered near the 30-percent mark.
Defensively, Lawrence has tweaked some things in the offseason, but nothing too significant. Opponents can expect to see pressure on the ball and the Trojans hope to force turnovers, which will jumpstart their offense.
Lawrence admits this team is quite different and must avoid the habit of comparing it to last year's squad. The seniors are taking base classes during the evening and attending at least three morning practices, which begin at 6 o'clock sharp.
They've been a little less productive.
"Compared to last year, we may not be as far along as I thought we'd be right now," Lawrence said. "But I might be comparing things too much. We just have a different mix and I have to get that straight in my head that we're not necessarily behind ... our strengths are different.
"We will push defense and rebounding, but we're going to have to tailor our defense to the type of players we've got. We're still smart on defense and I hope we're going to be hard to play against."
Mount Olive begins play Tuesday at Livingstone College, a member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The season opener kicks off a 26-game schedule that includes just 10 home contests -- all against CVAC opponents.
The Trojans play a combined seven of eight games on the road in November and December. Their lone home matchup is against Erskine (S.C.) College on Dec. 4.
They'll play five consecutive road games, including two in south Florida, before coming home again for a CVAC battle Jan. 8 against Queens University.
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