Preston Odam, Correspondence
The Jacksonville State Women’s Basketball Team kicked off official practice Wednesday, September 29 at the Pete Mathews Coliseum.
The Lady Gamecocks are coming off a great 2020-21 campaign that saw them finish with a 15-9 record and a four seed in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. Jacksonville State’s first contest of the new season is slated to be a game against the University of Auburn-Montgomery in early November.
One interesting factor for this season is the new conference in which the Lady Gamecocks will be competing in.
“One of the things about competing in a new conference is that you’re dealing with a lack of familiarity and that goes both ways. We’re not familiar with our opponents and they’re not familiar with us. So, just the challenge of figuring out a new set of opponents, and then having them try to figure us out,” Head coach Rick Pietri said. “And frankly the newness and freshness of just facing different opponents for the purpose of winning a title. You know we’ve been facing the same people for my eight years here to try to compete for and win a title, so we’ll now be facing, with the exception of Eastern Kentucky, an entirely new group of people to try to win a title. So that’s exciting.”
JSU has played some ASUN teams in the past. North Alabama visited Pete Mathews coliseum in a closed scrimmage two years ago. In that same 2019-20 season Lipscomb visited the Gamecocks in a match JSU won 65-63. Jacksonville University also played the Gamecocks that season as well. One of the newest ASUN members, Central Arkansas, played against JSU in the 2014-15 season which is now five or six years ago. Although there is some previous history with a few of the members of the ASUN, everything about a program can change in a matter of a few years, from players to coaching philosophy to style of play and more. Conference play is typically much harder fought and more difficult to win as everyone is battling for the same opportunity at being the conference titleholder.
The Lady Gamecocks are returning nine players which includes an experienced group of six seniors. Kiana Johnson, who is the only senior that has spent her entire collegiate career at JSU, is back along with Kennedy Gavin, Shawnta Shaw, Kyra Williams, Kaiya Burnett, and Imari Martin, who is the top scorer returning for the Gamecocks this season. JSU also returns Nekiyah Thompson, Keiara Griffin, and Winnie Kuimi. The Gamecocks do have some fairly big shoes to fill after losing point guard Taylor Hawks and forward Yamia Johnson as they both transferred out. JSU also lost forward Jessie Day to graduation.
“We added three freshmen and one junior college transfer to the nine players we had returning,” Pietri said when asked about how the Lady Gamecocks look to reload this season. “The three freshmen are all very gifted. They’re still trying to figure out the demands of being a division one basketball player; both the psychological demands as well as the physical demands. So, the sooner that they’re able to assimilate and get it figured out the quicker they can help us, and they’re gifted enough to help us. The one junior college transfer who’s coming has some injury issues, but we hope to have her ready to go by the first of the year. Obviously we’re expecting the new people to give us some type of help, and we’re also expecting our returning players to step up. Last year we had players raise the level of their games. We expect this year that there are going to be some individuals who raise the level of their games as well. If we can have that, then we’ll be okay.”
The Lady Gamecocks are looking forward to a new season and the challenge of competing in a new conference against new teams. JSU looks to build upon the excellent season last year. With nine returning players, the Lady Gamecocks will be an experienced group with lots of talent all over the court. JSU begins the season November 9 at home in the Pete Mathews Coliseum.