VSU women open season with weekend slate

File PhotoValdosta State guard Crystal Townsend shoots against Delta State last season.

The No. 23 Valdosta State women's basketball team opens the season Friday with the Gulf South Conference/Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Regional Challenge at The Complex.

The Blazers battle Fort Valley State at 6 p.m. Friday, and face Albany State at 2 p.m. Saturday. West Florida faces Albany State at 4 p.m. Friday and battles Fort Valley State at noon Saturday.

Fans can access links to live stats for all four games and video streaming for Friday's VSU game at vstateblazers.com on the women's basketball schedule page.

The Blazers are No. 23 in the preseason Women's Basketball Coaches Association Top 25 after a 23-9 season in 2017-18, while going 15-5 in GSC play and reaching the Sweet 16. Coach Carley Kuhns opens her third year at the helm, going 45-19 in two seasons and 31-11 in conference play. Kuhns guided the Blazers to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances with a GSC Tournament title in 2016-17.

VSU was picked second in the preseason GSC poll and garnered two first-place votes with 124 points. Union was the favorite in the poll with 142 points and 10 first-place nods, while West Florida was picked third with 121 points and the remaining first-place vote.

The Blazers return sophomore Kayla Bonilla, senior Maddy Corazza, redshirt senior Crystal Townsend, senior Jazmyn McIntosh, senior Kendra Green and sophomore Bria Clemmons. Redshirt freshman Abby Rouse redshirted in 2017-18, while redshirt senior Sonya Franklin also returns after sitting out last season.

Three Division I transfers highlight the newcomers. Nari Garner, a 5-foot-7 guard from Tampa, Fla., and William & Mary joins the team, along with two transfers from Mercer University. The Mercer transfers are Shon Kitchens, a 5-7 senior guard from Davisboro, and 6-2 redshirt sophomore center Germani Abram. Along with the transfers, Kuhns also added the services of freshman Nadia Cathey, a 5-7 guard, and Kayla Frey, a 5-10 guard.

Fort Valley State enters the season following a 4-23 campaign in 2017-18. Le'Coe Willingham begins her second year at the helm of the Wildcats. Willingham was a 10-year veteran of the WNBA and served as assistant coach at Tennessee State. She played basketball at Auburn as a three-time All-SEC selection.

The Wildcats' leading scorer, Alicia Franklin, returns as she played in 27 games and started 26. She went 120 of 440 from the field (.273), while draining a team-high 68 triples and went 125 of 171 from the line. Franklin averaged 16.0 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game, while recording 50 assists and 37 steals. Also returning for the Wildcats is Nola Carter, who finished second on the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game. Carter went 111 of 321 from the field (.346) and was 117 of 173 from the free-throw line (.676), while leading the team in rebounding at 8.1 per game. She had a team-high 61 assists with 33 steals. In all, the Wildcats' five leading scorers from a year ago all return.

Albany State enters after a 17-12 campaign in 2017-18 and a 12-5 mark in the SIAC. The Golden Rams are under the direction of Robert Skinner and he welcomes back second leading scorer Alexis Smith, who played in 27 games with 23 starts last season. She went 120 of 291 (.412) from the field with 19 triples and was 84 of 138 from the foul line (.609). Smith averaged 12.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game a season ago, while recording a team-high 64 assists and 52 steals with 27 blocks. Also returning is Alexandria James who finished third on the team in scoring at 8.8 points. She went 102 of 225 from the field (.453) with seven triples and was 45 of 76 from the foul line. James was second on the team in assists with 62 and recorded 26 steals.

West Florida went 18-12 in 2017-18 and 11-9 in league play as the Argos advanced to the GSC Championship game for the second straight season. The Argos are under the direction of seventh-year coach Stephanie Lawrence Yelton and welcomes back two starters and four letter-winners from 2017-18. Tori Brewer and Halee Nieman were named to the GSC Preseason All-Conference team.

VSU plays West Florida on Jan. 3 in Valdosta and again Feb. 21 in Pensacola, Fla.

Following this weekend's games, the Blazers head to the Sunshine State to face Palm Beach Atlantic on Nov. 19 and Lynn on Nov. 20. VSU returns home to open GSC play with a huge matchup against preseason No. 4-ranked Union on Thurs., Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at The Complex. 

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