The Valdosta Daily Times
Bruised, beaten up and injured are all fair ways to describe the Valdosta State women’s basketball team heading into tonight’s season opener against Trinity Baptist, which is set for a 6 p.m. tip-off.
“We are big time hurt,” Valdosta State head coach Kiley Hill said. “We only have eight kids (healthy). Eight of the 13 will be suited up... That’s happened in the last three weeks. At one point in time during the preseason, we had seven of our 13 kids hurt.”
Valdosta State has suffered several injuries to key players this preseason. It all seemed to start in late summer when senior point guard Maylissa Johnson tore her ACL. Now, Hill and the Lady Blazers will be short-handed heading into tonight’s season opener.
Despite the injuries, there is hope that the players will return this season, including Johnson, although Hill wouldn’t give clarity as to when his point guard that averaged a team-high four assists last year will return.
“No comment,” Hill said, smiling.
To deal with the injuries, Hill said each healthy player will be faced with more time on the court early in the season, meaning more playing time for inexperienced, young players.
“Our experience is limited and we are still learning, learning, learning,” Hill said. “It is one of those times where you wish (the season) didn’t start up so soon, but it might be good trial by fire.”
While the Lady Blazers are injured right now, they will, hopefully, heal up in time for the thick of the season.
“From a stat sheet, we look pretty impressive,” Hill said with optimism. “When we did have some people healthy early, we looked very good. Now can that come to fruition late in the year, or middle of the year? I don’t know. That is for the basketball Gods to decide.”
To go along with the lack of depth at the beginning of the season, due to the injuries, the Lady Blazers are also faced with the daunting task of replacing All-American Brittany Ferguson, who has joined the VSU coaching staff as a graduate assistant this season, all-conference selection Sczeny Hartry and last year’s starting post player Courtney Mitchell.
“Well right now, Brooke Satterfield will play some quality minutes for us. Brittney Nelson is returning; she was a starter for us half of the year,” Hill said. “Kourtnee Williams will play some quality minutes for us, too. And we hope that Kamyia Smith will play some point for us. Then from there, we have a toss up. We aren’t very consistent.”
Of all the names Hill threw out, Nelson will likely turn the majority of the heads this season. Playing in just the spring semester last basketball season, Nelson averaged 7.3 points per game and connected on 41 percent of her 3-pointers.
“She has done a tremendous job; her work-ethic has been tremendous for us,” said Hill of Nelson. “It is just a matter of if we can get four or five other people to help her — good things can happen.”
While the Lady Blazers fight their way through injuries early in the season, they will also be faced with a tough schedule, which features the start of Gulf South Conference play starting at the end of November.
“Our first conference game is at the end of November,” Hill said. “It is the first time in 10 or 11 years that we didn’t open in January.”
VSU’s first conference game of the season is on the road against conference newcomer Union University, who joins the conference after making the transition from the NAIA ranks.
“That is the longest trip of the year and we are putting a team on the floor that is inexperienced,” Hill said. “It is going to be a challenge, playing at Union, who we’ve never played before...From the women’s basketball side, Union has been a perennial power. I think before coming to Division II, they’ve won 2 of the last 4 NAIA titles. Their women are the real deal.”
Along with Union, Shorter University also joins the GSC, which is already known for producing some of the better teams in Division II.
Last season, the Lady Blazers missed out on winning the South Region by just two points, falling to Rollins College in the region championship game.
When asked about last season and how much that is still being discussed around the program, Hill was quick to point out that his team has moved on
“Every year we talk, this is a new team, new personalities, new dynamics,” Hill said. “(The Sweet 16) was another teams legacy, we have to build our own and establish our own identity.”