HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State's women's basketball team put together one of the best campaigns in program history last season.
The Lady Lions won the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) regular-season title, went undefeated at home during the regular season, won 18 of 19 games during one stretch and finished with sparkling 27-5 record.
The tough blemish on Wallace State's resume was a loss in the conference tournament semifinals, which ended the season earlier than the Lady Lions planned.
"We hated it ended in such a negative way, but last season was a great accomplishment for our team, especially for the outgoing sophomores who put a lot of time and effort into us being successful. It was a great season. It was one of the best we've had here in a while. It was a fun team to coach and everyone got along great," said Wallace State coach Ron Burdette, who has was named the 2014 ACCC North Coach of the Year. "We just didn't shoot the ball well in that final game and to this day I'm still not sure what happened. It sticks out in the mind in of our sophomores and should be motivation this season as we start a new chapter."
Wallace State gets the 2014-15 season underway on Tuesday, hosting Jones County (Miss.) CC at 5:30 p.m. at Tom Drake Coliseum.
Wallace State will feature a new-look starting five this season.
Sophomore forward Morgan Smith is the lone returning starter after averaging a team-high 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds as a freshman. Smith, a Cullman grad listed at 5-foot-10, was named a second-team All-ACCC/Region 22 member and was a first-team All-North selection last season.
Fellow sophomore Haven Albright also returns to the fold and is expected to inherit a starting role at shooting guard after averaging 6.2 points as a freshman, when she served mainly as a consistent sparkplug off the bench.
"There's no question Morgan Smith is a leader on this team, but she's more of a leader by example. She's not vocal. As Morgan goes, we will probably go. Haven Albright is a tremendous leader and Kaneisha Mixon has accepted that role as well," Burdette said. "We're not going to rely on just one person being a leader. We have a committee of them."
Mixon, a 5-foot-4 sophomore guard from Douglasville, Ga., received minutes off the bench in all but four games last season.
Burdette has also been impressed with the offseason progression of sophomore Morgan Hardy, a Hueytown native.
"Morgan Hardy has improved immensely. She's in the mix to be a big piece of our team this season and has worked hard on her confidence level. I'm expecting a good season from her," Burdette said.
BreAnna Thompson should provide another strong presence in the post for Burdette and the Lady Lions after her volleyball season is complete. Thompson, the 2014 ACCC volleyball tournament MVP, averaged 5.2 points and 4.8 points last season as a freshman.
Shantay Baldwin, a 5-foot-9 sophomore forward from Luella, Ga., seeks to earn more minutes in the post this season.
There are a lot of new faces up and down the Wallace State roster.
Burdette expects point guard Sydney Houston and forwards Hannah Vest and Tyra Caudle to be among the impact freshmen this year. Houston joins the Lions from Tanner High School where she was a 1st-team All-State point guard. Vest was also a Class 2A All-State performer at North Sand Mountain and Caudle played at Hazel Green High.
Kasey Sparks, a 1st-team All-State selection her senior year at Red Bay, should also evolve into one of Wallace State's top freshmen.
Hannah Black (Arab High), Jada Dale (Hazel Green), Brennan Crabtree (East Limestone), Rachael Diamond (East Limestone), Kamri Sears (Tharptown), Leslie Whiddon (Paulding County, Ga.) and Keisha Shy (Paulding County, Ga.) make up the remaining freshmen on this season's roster.
"As October progressed we had some freshmen make some significant strides and get better. It's like that every year. It takes the freshmen a little while to get their feet on the ground and start feeling comfortable. In our last scrimmage I saw a lot more confidence and composure out of them. I don't know if we will shoot it as well this season, but we are faster and more athletic. We should be able to run a lot more," said Burdette, whose team hit a conference-best 265 3-pointers last season. "I think we are ready. I'm excited about this group. I'm optimistic about us having another successful season."
Wallace State hosts a pair of non-conference tournaments at Tom Drake Coliseum, one in December and one in early January, that will feature some formidable opponents, including Moberly Area (Mo), Sinclair (Ohio) CC, Dyersburg (Tenn.) State, Kirkwood (Iowa) College, Wabash Valley (Ill.) College and LSU-Eunice.
Wallace State's conference opener is at Gadsden State on Jan. 13.
Burdette has compiled a 72-24 record as he enters his fourth season with the Lady Lions. He was an assistant in 2011, the last time the women advanced to the NJCAA Division I national tournament.
Jessica Bailey will serve as an assistant for the second year and Jessica McBrayer, a former Wallace State Lady Lion, also joins the staff. McBrayer, then Jessica Andrews, played at Wallace State during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.