New-look Mercer basketball team hoping to make another run at the NCAA tournament

The Mercer Bears women’s basketball team is gearing up for another season and are looking to get back to the NCAA tournament for a third straight season.

Which could be a tough task after losing the school’s most winning senior class of all time. Head coach Susie Gardner said there are a lot of questions to be answered with this team.

“We lost four starters,” Gardner said. “I guess the other questions to be answered is who is not only going to start but who is going to play the minutes.

Shannon Titus, who had a breakout season when she averaged 12 points, five rebounds and two assists per game, is the only remaining starter from last season.

Titus said that the team is working hard and getting to know each other in preparation for the season.

“I think we are all ready. We are all anxious,” she said. “We did great last year but you know we just want to get better and just be comfortable with each other.”

Mercer has had a streak of players win the Southern Conference Player of the Year award. Former Bears Kahlia Lawrence, KeKe Calloway and Amanda Thompson each have taken home the award over the last four seasons.

Lawrence won it three times and Calloway and Thompson shared the honor last season. Despite that, Gardner says that the streak isn’t really something they are thinking about as a team.

“There are great players in our conference,” Gardner said. “We are more concerned about winning games than trying to get player of (the year).”

After losing the big class last season, Gardner and her team got to work on bringing in more talent. The Bears landed a pair of big transfers in former Arizona Wildcat Kiana Barkhoff and former Virginia Tech Hokie Sierra Votaw.

Votaw spent a year at Eastern Florida State, a junior college where she averaged 12.5 points and seven rebounds per game. Barkhoff was a shot blocker in limited minutes for the Wildcats as a freshman before transferring to Mercer midseason last year as a sophomore.

“In terms of basketball they don’t have the experience with us but they have basketball experience,” Gardner said. “We’ve got a little bit more maturity.”

The team will face a tough non-conference schedule which includes games at Alabama and Georgia. Gardner said that the Bears have had to get creative with their scheduling as the team has gotten better but it has also helped in getting bigger programs to come to Macon to play them as well.

“The better we get the harder it is for us to schedule games ... so we have to be creative.” Gardner said. “Going to New York to play two Ivies, Yale and Columbia, is not something I would normally do but we have find games so we are excited about that opportunity. We are excited about having Clemson come here.”

The Bears will get their season underway on Nov. 5 against LaGrange. Mercer generally plays a tough non-conference schedule to get ready for the grind of conference play which is highlighted by a trio of SEC road games against Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

“It is going to be a challenge without question from the tip,” Gardner said. “These types of opponents are going to magnify our weaknesses as well as our strengths but I think more importantly for me it shows us what we need to do better.”

Key dates

  • Nov. 5: vs. LaGrange
  • Nov. 8: vs. Western Kentucky
  • Nov. 17: at Alabama

  • Nov. 21: at Georgia

  • Nov. 29: at Appalachian State

  • Dec. 7: vs. Georgia Southern

  • Dec 15: vs. Clemson

  • Dec 17: at Florida

  • Jan. 9: at Furman (conference opener)

  • Jan. 23: vs. ETSU (conference home opener)

  • Feb. 29 vs. UNCG (season finale)