Susie Gardner’s T-shirt said it all Sunday at the first practice of the season for her Mercer women’s basketball team.
“Get better every day.”
Yes, the Bears are coming off back-to-back regular-season titles in the Southern Conference, and they have reached the championship game in the conference tournament both years. And yes, the Bears have essentially the same roster from last year, led by seniors Kahlia Lawrence and Sydni Means.
But Gardner isn’t allowing herself or her players to look ahead to the ultimate goal: winning the Southern Conference Tournament and reaching the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that we have to be careful to put end-of-the-year expectations on them. One of the reasons I wore this shirt (Sunday) was to remind myself that our objective is to simply get better every drill, every practice,” Gardner said. “I know that sounds simple, but that’s what we did when these guys were freshmen and sophomores, and it worked pretty well. So we’re kind of going back to basics there. Obviously, the expectations are high. I can’t go anywhere in Macon without someone saying, ‘Oh, y’all are going to be pretty good this year,’ and we simply should be.
“I’m not trying to be cocky, but the fact of the matter is we have the same exact team that we had last year.”
The Bears won 24 games in 2015-16 and 25 in 2016-17, and they lost to Chattanooga in the conference tournament championship game both years.
Lawrence was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year in 2014-15 and has been the conference’s player of the year the past two years. She averaged 18.4 points per game last season.
“Definitely, definitely, the biggest goal we have right now,” Lawrence said of an NCAA Tournament berth. “Obviously, there are going to be smaller challenges ahead of that, but overall, that’s our ultimate goal.”
Means was named to the all-conference first team last year, averaging 11.3 points and 6.7 assists per game. Alex Williams, Shon Kitchens and Kayla Potts round out the senior class, and they are followed by a strong junior class of KeKe Calloway, Amanda Thompson, Linnea Rosendal, Rachel Selph and Ally Welch.
“We just have a sense of maturity that we haven’t had in these years past just being able to have experience as well as chemistry now that we’ve been together for so long,” Means said. “I think that’s going to be a positive for us going into the season.”