10/25/07 — Mount Olive College basketball outlook

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Mount Olive College basketball outlook

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 25, 2007 1:48 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Coming off successful campaigns a year ago has created excitement in the men's and women's basketball programs at Mount Olive College.

And with cupboards full of talent, they hope to create a winning recipe of accomplishments during their respective 2007-08 seasons. Veteran head coaches Bill Clingan and Wendy Lee offered a sneak preview of their highly-touted squads during a tip-off luncheon Wednesday afternoon.

The Trojan men return four starters off last year's team that posted its fourth consecutive 20-win season and earned its fourth straight trip to the NCAA Division II East Regional.

Senior Montel Jones is lone holdover from the 2005 team that advanced to the Elite Eight. Sophomore Kendrick Easley received preseason All-American honorable mention accolades from The Sporting News. Also back are senior forward Brandon Streeter and junior guard Justin Melton.

Clingan, not surprisingly, remains guardedly optimistic about the season after losing five seniors to graduation.

"Those seniors are passing off the baton to the players this year who understand the tradition, and the need to carry the baton forward," said Clingan. "We'll not deviate from our previous style of play, but we will take advantage of our players' talents. There will be peaks and valleys, but with this team, I think it will be a fun year."

Mount Olive opens its season Nov. 16 against nationally-ranked Wingate University in the 42nd annual Pickle Classic. The Trojans play another nationally-ranked team, West Virginia State, the following evening.

Then its back-to-back Conference Carolinas contests against Pfeiffer, which ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring a year ago and Queens, an East Regional participant in 2007. It's undoubtedly the most-competitive, 27-game slate Clingan has devised during his tenure.

"The day I finalized the schedule, I left lunch with indigestion," quipped Clingan.

In addition, Mount Olive will play its first-ever televised game on March 1, 2008, against defending national champion Barton College. CSTV will broadcast live the regular-season finale from Wilson Gymnasium.

Barton is picked to claim its third consecutive regular-season Conference Carolinas championship. The Trojans weren't far behind in the coaches' balloting and are expected to finish among the top three for the fifth straight season.

"We've got a good group this year and we've been hitting the weights to get stronger," said MOC associate head coach Joey Higginbotham. "We know we've got a bulls eye on our backs. We'll be ready for the guys 'down the street' when they come."

The Trojan women logged a 15-13 worksheet last season, which included a program-best, fifth-place showing in conference play. Six-plus starters return with all-conference selections Keona Corley and Helen Moore in the mix.

Also back are Alisa Jones, Sierra Medeiros, Tomeka Prichard and sharp-shooting Brittney Robich. Redshirt sophomore guard Meghan Vanderhorst (knee injury) and Jill Oaks should rejoin the team after the conclusion of the fall semester. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Oaks has one semester of eligibility remaining.

"We finished strong toward the end of last year and I saw promise for the future," said Lee, now in her eighth season. "It hit me then how special this group could really be. Their growth and maturity has given me confidence in myself.

"They have a hunger from last year's success. This group, more than any other group I've coached, has the belief it should be in a tournament it hasn't played in before."

In preseason balloting, the Trojans were picked to finish fourth behind defending league champion Anderson, archrival Barton and Pfeiffer. It's Mount Olive's highest preseason placement during Lee's tenure as head coach.

Mount Olive tips off its season at home Nov. 17 against Francis Marion (S.C.) University. The 27-game schedule includes a holiday trip to the Bahamas Shootout where the Trojans will play against Division II foes Tiffin (Ohio) University and Southern Indiana.