Lofty expectations continue for Mercer women’s basketball team

Mercer's Kahlia Lawrence was named the Southern Conference Preseason Player of the Year on Wednesday.
Mercer's Kahlia Lawrence was named the Southern Conference Preseason Player of the Year on Wednesday.

The Mercer women’s basketball team has won the regular-season title in the Southern Conference the past two seasons, while Kahlia Lawrence has been named the conference’s player of the year both seasons.

If the conference’s coaches and media members are correct, the Bears and Lawrence are headed for another big season.

On Wednesday, Mercer was picked as the favorite in the conference by the coaches and the media, while Lawrence was named the conference’s preseason player of the year. The Bears open their season Nov. 10 at Central Florida.

“This team was picked fifth when they were freshmen and sophomores, so it’s a credit to them how they’ve grown together,” Mercer head coach Susie Gardner said. “It is gratifying that we have earned the respect of our peers in this conference. I am really proud of our players for bringing Mercer basketball to be recognized as a preseason favorite. At the same time, we also respect every team in our conference. We recognize that we have to play our top game every night because this is a great conference.”

Mercer finished the 2016-17 season with a 25-7 record, setting the program record for most wins in a season in the NCAA Division I era. The Bears have won at least 20 games in four of the past five seasons and have finished as the runner-up in the conference tournament the past two seasons.

Lawrence was joined on the preseason all-conference team by teammates Sydni Means and KeKe Calloway. Lawrence led Mercer with 18.0 points per game last year, and in three seasons with the Bears, she has scored 1,639 career points.

Last season, Means averaged 10.9 points and 6.8 assists per game, and she had a 3.54 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranked third in the NCAA. Calloway averaged 12.3 points per game and hit 68 3-pointers last season.

“Kahlia has been a great player since her freshman year as the SoCon Freshman of the Year,” Gardner said. “She has earned player of the year over the last couple of years, yet we recognize that there are several other great players in this league. Kahlia is one of the most humble players that I have ever coached. Sydni has come a long way since her freshman year where she played limited minutes to elevating her game to be one of the top players in the league, and I am really proud of her. KeKe is one of those players that came to Mercer with tremendous talent and has continued to work on her game and is always in the gym. I am happy for them, while at the same time we have a lot of other really good players that without them we wouldn’t be in this situation.”