Mercer's women hit the hardwood at Hawkins Arena on Thursday.
From Mercer sports info:
The Mercer women’s basketball team and third-year head coach Susie Gardner took the court for its first official team practice of the 2012-13 season on Thursday morning.
“We focused for an hour and a half this morning solely on defense and we will come back again this evening and work on the offensive side of the ball,” Gardner said. “We wanted this morning to be an energetic, high intensity and enthusiastic practice and I think the girls got after it and overall I thought it was a very positive hour and a half session.”
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The team has been working on conditioning and individual drills since school began in late August, but Thursday marked the first day the team could practice as a full squad.
Gardner welcomes back the most veteran squad during her tenure in Macon this season, including four starters and nine letterwinners from the Bears 2011-12 team.
One of those starters, sophomore guard Tabitha Bradshaw, talked about opening day and the team’s mindset going into their first practice. “It was a lot of fun, and even though we had to get up real early we were excited and ready to work hard,” Bradshaw said. “We have a lot more chemistry now than we did last year because we are so much stronger, faster and smarter than we were as a group last year which will hopefully help us win some games this season.”
Seniors Ry’van Buchanan and Alex Phillips lead a group of six upperclassmen while sophomores Precious Bridges and Alicia Williams highlight the youth movement of seven underclassmen to give the Orange and Black great team balance for the upcoming season.
Buchanan will be counted upon to increase her scoring average after turning in a solid first year with the Bears. The Atlanta, Ga. product finished second on the team and tied for 15th in the Atlantic Sun Conference averaging 10.8 points per game while also ranking fifth in the league with a 47.4 field goal percentage.
Phillips was a force down low last season, at times dominating the paint with her rebounding and defense. The 6-3 Duluth, Ga. native averaged 4.4 points per game and finished the 2011-12 season ranked tied for third in the A-Sun with 1.4 blocks per game and tied for ninth with 6.7 rebounds per game.
Bridges had a brilliant first season in Macon, playing her way onto the A-Sun Conference All-Freshman team. The West Palm Beach, Fla. combo guard ranked third on the team by averaging 8.4 points per game and led the squad in minutes per game (31.8) and assists (60).
Williams also showed she has the potential to be a potent option on the offensive end for years to come under Coach Gardner. The Fort Payne, Ala. product appeared in 29 games as a true freshman and ranked fourth on the team averaging 7.2 points per game and second with 29 three-point field goals made.
One player who didn’t play for the Bears last season, due to serious knee injuries, who is back in the fold for Coach Gardner this year is redshirt junior Kendra Grant. Grant last played during the 2010-11 season, appearing in 17 games and averaging 7.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
“Kendra is one of those players that everyone wants to see succeed because she had two very serious knee surgeries and has put in the work both in the training room and weight room to get back on the floor,” Gardner said. “She is our best pure shooter; she knows the game and gives us those intangibles that you just can’t teach, so as a coaching staff we are very excited to have her back.”
Mercer begins its season on November 1, hosting Francis Marion in an exhibition matchup at 7 p.m. The 2012-13 campaign officially tips off a week later when the Bears host Brevard at Hawkins Arena on November 9 at 7 p.m. to kick off homecoming weekend.
“We are really going to focus on defense this year because we need to find ways to manufacture points with our leading scorer Briana Williams being out for the year,” Gardner said. “We have got to have our defense create some offense and we also need to get to the free throw line more often this year as well. We have a great coaching staff in place, we meet every day about what we are going to do with this program and this team and I think we are definitely heading in the right direction and today was an excellent start towards that.”
Elsewhere around Middle Georgia:
Albany State is playing Lane in SIAC football Saturday at Macon's Henderson Stadium, although nobody's really told anybody about it.
Georgia College beat conference newbie Young Harris 1-0 Wednesday in women's soccer. Sophomore Annie Stephens recorded her second shutout of the season.
Mercer beat Lipscomb 2-1 in men's soccer on Thursday despite playing the second half with 10 players, thanks to a red card late in the first half. The 7-3-1 mark ties the top start since 8-2-1 in 2002.