Lady Cougars Named Preseason Favorites

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Jay Sparks and his Columbus State Lady Cougar basketball team have yet to play a game, but the squad has already earned the respect of other Peach Belt Conference coaches with its pick as the favorite to win the league championship in the annual preseason coaches poll released Friday.

Sparks returns a nucleus of four players from last year's team, including the three top rebounders, and will also get Karina Pulici, the leading three-point shooter in the 2003-04 season back after she sat out last season with a knee injury. Those players, coupled with what Sparks calls maybe his best recruiting class ever, have expectations high around the CSU program.

Tabasha Taylor (10.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is the leading returning scorer, while Cherwonna Walker (10.1 ppg, 10.1 rgp) and Erin Gibbs (10.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) also return. That nucleus of starters, along with guard Erin Holder and Pulici, give Sparks a great foundation to build from with his group of 10 newcomers. Among that group are seven transfers and three true freshmen.

Heading the list of newcomers is 6'6' post player LaShonda Allen. Allen last played at the University of North Carolina and has one year of eligibility remaining. Joining her is 6'2' Marquita Greene, a guard with tremendous athletic ability, out of Gulf Coast Community College. In all, the Lady Cougars will boast their tallest squad ever, with seven players standing 5'11' or taller.

'For the first time in a while, we have some significant depth,' said Sparks. 'There will be some wonderful battles in practice to see who gets the starting nod.'

Sparks will be replacing top scorer Lucia Heston, as well as the point guard position and he says that as the team prepares for its November 4 opener at the Disney Division II Tip-Off Classic '...nothing is set and all positions are up for grabs.'

'We are much more athletic than we have been the last couple of years. We really have some players that can run the floor and can defend for the full 94 feet. Honestly, it will take us a little while to all get on the same page, but with a commitment from our players and a drive to get better, we will be okay for the long haul,' Sparks added.

CSU garnered 98 points in the poll, grabbing eight first-place votes. Clayton State was second with 88 points, while Georgia College and State University was third with 73. Armstrong Atlantic State, UNC Pembroke, Augusta State, USC Aiken, Francis Marion, North Georgia, USC Upstate, and Lander round out the poll.

CSU will open the season against traditional Division II power Southern Indiana at Disney and then will face either one of two top-10 teams in North Dakota or Merrimack. The Lady Cougars' first home game is not until the December 3 PBC clash with Armstrong Atlantic State.