VALDOSTA - Valdosta State women's basketball head coach Kiley Hill had four criteria in mind headed into the off-season signing period. Almost four months after the Lady Blazers season ended in the Gulf South Conference tournament, Hill thinks he's filled those criteria nicely.
Valdosta State inked five players for its 2004-05 signing class and will get one more local walk-on to join three returning starters and a team seeking its third straight Gulf South Conference tournament appearance.
"We wanted to improve our bench depth, improve our overall ball-handling abilities and guard play from top to bottom, improve our leadership from within and we wanted to make sure we had kids who have the ability to score with and without pressure," Hill said. "I think they fit the criteria very well."
Valdosta State signed Khaleh Thomas and Carley Peterson during the early signing period and then brought in Janelle Collazo and college transfers Rose Abreu and Cara Lucas to complete the class.
The Lady Blazers will also get help from walk-on forward Kristin McLeod, a Lowndes High product, who comes over after two seasons at Piedmont College.
Abreu, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, is the elder of the signing class, a junior college transfer after spending two seasons at Sante Fe Community College in Gainseville, Fla. There she was an all-conference honorable mention selection, scoring 600 career points, good for 12th on the school's all-time scoring list.
"The Collazo kid and Rose Abreu can flat-out shoot it," Hill said. "There's no doubt about it, those two can score."
Collazo, who will be a true freshman, adds additional depth to an already deep Lady Blazers' backcourt. At 5-foot-7, Collazo averaged 14 points at University High School in Orlando, Fla. Lucas, another 5-foot-7 guard from Albany, comes to Valdosta State as a sophomore after one season at Tennessee Tech University. She shot 85 percent from the free throw line and 33 percent from three-point range as a freshman.
"She reminds me so much of Traci Newton in her play it is scary," Hill says of Lucas, who he calls a slasher on the court.
Thomas, a 6-foot, versatile freshman forward, hails from Brunswick where she graduated as valedictorian of Brunswick High School. Hill said she can play forward, power forward or center and is 'built like a Sherman tank."
"Kaleh Thomas is the darkhorse," Hill said. "That kid is going to be able to play a lot of minutes coming out."
Peterson, a 5-foot-10 guard out of Parkview High School, adds even more versatility to the Valdosta State lineup. She was part of Parkview's 2003 girls' basketball state championship team in Class AAAAA.
The Lady Blazers will also get back a healthy Courtney Parker and Nichole Jernigan, Hill said. Parker struggled with an ailing ankle for the latter half of the 2003-04 season and Jernigan was redshirted after an ACL injury.
Hill also said guard Monica Seay and center Shundria Moorer have left the team.
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