GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum women's basketball team will have a different look when the Pioneers tip off their 2017-18 season on Friday, Nov. 10 against Converse in the opening game of the South Atlantic Conference/Conference Carolinas Challenge.
Seven returning players are joined by 10 newcomers on this year's squad, which third-year head coach Devan Carter feels will be entertaining to watch and coach.
"We are definitely excited for this season. We had a good recruiting class filled with experience. It's a great mix of kids, a lot more athletic than we have been," said Carter. "We are faster and quicker, and we look forward to playing an exciting style of basketball."
Tusculum finished 6-20 overall last season and tied for eighth in the SAC standings with a 5-17 league record. The Pioneers were eliminated from SAC tournament contention on a buzzer-beating layup in the season finale at Queens, losing on a four-way tiebreaker for the final spot in the league tournament.
Junior Kasey Johnson was named honorable mention All-SAC last season after leading the Pioneers in nearly every statistical category. The 6-footer from Greensboro, North Carolina averaged 15.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.63 blocked shots per game, ranking fifth in the SAC in scoring average, 14th in rebounding and sixth in blocks. Johnson averaged a conference-best 36.5 minutes per game, playing in 310 of a possible 320 minutes over the Pioneers' final eight games, and shot 49.8 percent from the field (119-for-239) to rank 10th in the league.
Johnson scored in double figures 17 times in 19 games, including a career-high 28 points against Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, and had four double-doubles including 25 points and 13 boards in a double-overtime win over Brevard on Jan. 25. In two seasons, Johnson has scored 596 points (13.5 points per game) and is shooting 50.6 percent from the field (240-for-474) in 44 career games.
The only other frontcourt player with previous Tusculum experience is 6-2 sophomore Jasmine Williams. The Morristown, Tennessee native appeared in 22 games as a freshman, averaging 1.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.77 blocks per game. Williams set season highs with six points and nine rebounds at Catawba on Jan. 21, and added eight rebounds and four blocked shots against Brevard on Jan. 25. Williams had at least one blocked shot in 10 of her 22 games, and nine games where she made all of her field-goal attempts. Overall, Williams shot 46.4 percent (13-for-28) from the field and ranked second on the team with 17 blocks.
Five transfers will bolster the depth in the Tusculum frontcourt, led by juniors Yolizma Cupidan, Martoria Patton and Kendrea Duke. Additional depth will be provided by senior Kiana Batagelj and sophomore Deniz Dalkiran.
Cupidan, a transfer from Florida State College at Jacksonville, ranked second on the Blue Wave in scoring at 15.3 points per game while averaging 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per contest. The 5-8 product of Ocoee, Florida scored in double figures 28 times in 31 games for FSCJ, including five games of 20 points or more.
Patton comes to Tusculum from Walters State, where she averaged 5.8 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Senators in 30 games (17 starts). The 5-9 Nashville native reached double figures in rebounds eight times last season, registering double-doubles in each of Walters State's two games at the NJCAA national championship tournament.
Duke played at Volunteer State last season, averaging a double-double with 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 55.9 percent from the field and 76.0 percent at the foul line. The 6-foot product of Hendersonville, Tennessee scored 20 or more points five times last season and had 13 double-doubles, including 13 points and 22 rebounds against Chattanooga State on Dec. 3 and 24 points and 11 boards against Dyersburg State on Feb. 15.
Batagelj played last season at Division I UMass Lowell, where she appeared in four games and averaged 2.3 points and 1.0 rebounds per contest. Batagelj, a native of Ancaster, Ontario, scored a season-high six points against Maryland on Nov. 13 of last season. Prior to UMass Lowell, the 5-11 Batagelj played two seasons at Hillsborough Community College, averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
The 6-4 Dalkiran hails from Istanbul, Turkey, and played last season at Western Nebraska Community College, averaging 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while appearing in 27 contests for the Cougars.
Freshman Maddie Sutton could also be an immediate contributor for the Pioneers, after helping Heritage High School to a 21-9 overall record last season and scoring over 1,100 points in her career with the Mountaineers.
Junior Callie Patterson moved into the starting lineup in early January and averaged 11.6 points per game over her final 15 games, finishing the season ranked second on the team in scoring at 9.2 points per contest. Patterson was second on the team with 25 three-pointers, including a game-tying three at the first overtime buzzer of Tusculum's double-OT win over Brevard on Jan. 25. Patterson scored a season-high 22 points against Carson-Newman on Feb. 15 and reached double figures nine times in 15 starts. The 5-7 native of McLeansville, North Carolina is averaging 8.2 points per game in 37 career games for the Pioneers, and is a career 70.7 percent shooter from the foul line.
Junior Sydney Wilson is the third starter back for the Pioneers this season, coming off a sophomore season in which she averaged 7.5 points per game for the Pioneers. Wilson had seven games in which she reached double figures last season, highlighted by 17 points and five rebounds at Lincoln Memorial on Feb. 8. Wilson had 11 points, eight rebounds and six steals in a victory over Coker on Dec. 17, and shot 76.9 percent (30-for-39) from the foul line. Wilson has appeared in 45 games (36 starts) over her first two seasons at Tusculum, and the 5-9 native of Greensboro, N.C. is averaging 9.2 points per game during her Pioneer career.
Two transfers who will immediately contribute for the Pioneers are junior Lovely Locklear and sophomore Mia Long. Locklear played in 28 games at Division I Gardner-Webb last season, making six starts, and averaged 3.5 points per game for the Runnin' Bulldogs. Locklear scored in double figures three times last season, including 12 points and five rebounds against Wofford on Nov. 22. The 5-8 native of Cary, North Carolina played 27 games at Gardner-Webb as a freshman, averaging 1.0 points per game.
Long arrives at Tusculum after one season at Concordia University in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The 5-4 Long was the Cardinals' second-leading scorer last season at 13.5 points per game, while averaging 3.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game. Long attempted a whopping 247 free throws in 31 games, and finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists against Cornerstone on Jan. 14.
Tusculum's lone senior is Morgan Depew, who played in 10 games for the Pioneers last season and averaged 5.1 points before missing the final 15 games due to injury. Depew had a career night at Brevard on Nov. 22, shooting 6-for-9 from the field and scoring 20 points in 17 minutes. Depew also scored 11 points in 27 minutes against Carson-Newman on Jan. 4 in what would be her final appearance of the season. The 5-5 native of Elizabethton, Tennessee is averaging 3.4 points per game in 24 career appearance at Tusculum, including five starts.
Sophomores Tara Shields and Monica Roberts will look to build upon their freshman seasons with the Pioneers. Shields, one of the top three-point shooters in Tennessee prep history at Alcoa High School, connected on 23 from three-point range last season and averaged 4.6 points per game. The 5-7 Shields reached double figures four times in 21 games, scoring 17 points on five three-pointers against Catawba on Dec. 3 and following up with 16 points against North Greeneville on Dec. 8. Shields also sank five threes and scored 15 points against Wingate on Nov. 19.
Roberts became a part of the Tusculum rotation later in the season, and responded with eight points in 13 minutes against Mars Hill on Feb. 22 and six points in 26 minutes at Lincoln Memorial on Feb. 8. Roberts appeared in 17 games last year, and the 5-9 native of Huntsville, Tenn. averaged 1.7 points and 0.5 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game.
Freshmen Loni Sales and Jalia Arnwine will look to step in and contribute in their rookie seasons for the Pioneers. The 5-7 Sales missed her senior season at Legacy Early College in her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina due to a knee injury sustained last summer, but had been a key contributor for Greenville High School in her sophomore and junior seasons.
Arnwine is a 5-6 product of Knoxville, Tennessee and was named All-Conference as a senior at Bearden High School. where she helped the Bulldogs to a 24-1 regular season record as a senior and a berth in the state semifinals as a sophomore.
After opening the season with four consecutive home games against Conference Carolinas opponents Converse, King, Belmont Abbey and North Greenville, the Pioneers travel to Virginia State and Bluefield State during Thanksgiving week. Tusculum kicks off its SAC schedule on Wednesday, Nov. 29 at Pioneer Arena against Lincoln Memorial, and will play 20 conference games this season. The Pioneers will close out the regular season on the road Saturday, Feb. 24 at Newberry.