Stephen Duke, Correspondent
The Jacksonville State women’s basketball team began preseason preparations this past week.
The NCAA decided in September that both men’s and women’s basketball season can begin on Nov. 25. The upcoming schedule for the women’s basketball team has not been finalized, but the Gamecocks are expected to have a “short non-conference lineup once the season begins late next month,” according to JSU athletics.
The opponents have not yet been released, JSU athletics said, and there will be protocols set in place for how men’s and women’s basketball games will operate in the coming season. Those protocols will be released at a later date.
The Lady Gamecocks are coming off a 14-16 season, with 10-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference, last season. They were a five-seed in the league tournament in March, falling to Eastern Illinois 49-46 in a close game to end their season. The Gamecocks return several key pieces from last year’s team, including seniors Taylor Hawks, Kiana Johnson, Jessie Day and Jayla Walker, as well as other key players such as Yamia Johnson and sophomore Nekiyah Thompson.
“Practice has been going well so far,” said Rick Pietri, JSU women’s basketball coach. “We’re trying to incorporate newcomers, as well as see some growth in returners. The newcomers have been doing well. We’re just trying to get everyone to gel together.”
Asked about how practice has looked in the midst of the pandemic, Pietri said “During the summer, we were only allowed three practices hours per week, significantly less than what we normally have. As a result, we started out a little bit behind schedule, but now we’re actually a little bit ahead. At this point, we’re dealing with all the changes, including the NCAA’s new start date. We’re just trying to stay up and running.”
Pietri returns for his eighth season at the helm of the Gamecocks women’s basketball team. Through his twenty year career overall, he has a record of 324-271, with a 104-104 record through his first seven seasons.
Pietri also highlighted several key players that he thought were really rising to the occasion so far in practice.
“Jessie Day, Taylor Hawks, Kiana Johnson and Yamia Johnson all have made some significant progress in the offseason,” he said. “All of our returning players are doing well thus far, and freshman Keiara Griffin is showing that she can make an impact in this program.”
Through the thirty-game season last season, the Gamecocks had some very close defeats, including a 62-53 loss at Auburn in December. One of the biggest wins from last season came on Feb. 1, when the Belmont Bruins visited Pete Mathews Coliseum and left stunned. The Gamecocks upset the Bruins that day 60-41 in a game where the defense was on fire. That game came just days after a win over previously unbeaten in league play Tennessee Tech to give them, at the time, a share of the top spot in the conference rankings.
“The last two years we’ve finished fifth and sixth in the conference,” said Pietri. “Our goal now is to go from the top half to the top third of the conference. Growth is definitely needed, but the potential is certainly there for this team to do some special things.”