BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham-Southern women's basketball team opens its 2019-20 season with a host of fresh faces balancing out an experienced core. BSC welcomes nine newcomers to the Hilltop that can help the Panthers regain the Southern Athletic Association title.
"Feel pretty good," said Head Coach Mike Ricks about the upcoming season. "Optimistic in that we're addressing the details of what we need to do. This time of year we grow and continue to move forward."
BSC only has one senior on its roster. 2019 SAA Player of the Year and three-time all-conference center Emilee Olsen (Marietta, Ga./Lassiter HS). She has led the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocks for the past three seasons. The programs all-time career blocks leader, Olsen currently sits second all-time in career rebounds and third in points.
"Emilee has been the rock that we try to build our offense and our defense around," said Ricks. "We're thankful we have one more year with her."
The Panthers return three of their five starters from last year. Along with Olsen, Leah Middleton (Decatur, Ga./St. Pius XH) and Misa Fujii (Sunnyvale, Calif./Notre Dame HS) are expected to use their experience to lead the young group into a winning season. Middleton started every game last year and Fujii finished second on the team in made three's.
"Leah is one of those kids who never has a bad day and gives you everything that she has, especially on the defensive side," Ricks noted. "Super excited to see her growth. Misa is going to have a terrific year and it started with the work that she did in the spring and summer. You could just tell there was a difference to her when we started practice."
Other returners who will make an impact this year are Derienne Black (Madison, Ala./Sparkman HS), Samantha Lee (St. Petersburg, Fla./Northeast HS), Cassady Quintana (Orlando, Fla./William R. Boone HS), and Josie Wannemuehler (Birmingham, Ala./John Carroll Catholic HS). The foursome had quality minutes last season and provided much needed support.
"Derienne is going to emerge this year as one of the top players in our conference," said Ricks. "Sam was an everyday player for us last year and excited to see her increase in activity. Cassady is super long. She has the ability to hit the three, and long enough to potentially be a shot blocker inside next to Emilee. Josie is somebody who came off the bench as a freshman. She's one of our stronger guards physically and we think that will lend itself to her being a tough defender."
Among the nine newcomers are two transfers. "After a couple of years with smaller rosters, it's nice to be back at full strength," said Ricks. "It's made practice better. Competition of playing time is something that having numbers can afford you. With our transfers, you get experience and savvy in athleticism. With our freshmen, they all work extremely hard. We're fortunate to have every single one of them."
BSC begins the season on the road at Huntingdon on Saturday, Nov. 9. After an exhibition at Georgia Southwestern, they open their home season November 15-16 in the annual Richard Dardenne Memorial Classic, welcoming Agnes Scott College and Covenant College to the Hilltop. The Panthers will take a trip to California this year to face Wheaton and UC Santa Cruz before opening SAA play at home against Millsaps College on December 18.
"You hate to make predictions," Ricks said of the strength of conference opponents this season. "You never know who will surprise anybody. That's the biggest thing, every game, every possession, if you're not ready to play, you're going to find yourself punched in the mouth pretty quick."
The road to the top of the league starts every day in practice. For coach Ricks and Panthers, championships are won today.
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