The Lions look to open up year two of Division-I play with another strong showing. The Lions held host to their first ever ASUN tournament home game. The team looks to turn it up a notch and fire into season two at full speed.
“It’s exciting to see them play,” said North Alabama student Austin Sherrill. Sherrill was one of many UNA students that saw the team finish with a 12-3 home record in Flowers Hall last season. “They always brought excitement and made sure to put on a show whenever they played.”
In addition to a strong home record, the women’s basketball team finished with a 21-9 overall record during their first year in Division-I competition. They picked up a monumental first win 74-71 against favored SEC opponent Vanderbilt. They joined the Atlantic Sun conference and compiled a 10-6 overall record in conference play. The 20+ wins led the team to their second back-to-back 20 or more win season.
Head coach Missy Tiber knows that her team performed well during a year of many firsts but realizes that it’s a new rotation and the goal is to not stay stuck in the past.
“You know, I think the biggest thing is it’s a daily reminder to not become complacent as a person or with anything in life,’’ said Tiber. “You don’t stay where you’re at; you’re either going to get better or you’re going to get worse.”
Senior Brittany Panetti knows that the team performed well but the goal for this year is much higher.
“Our whole goal is to go out there and win a bunch of games,” said Panetti. “But we want to win a championship.”
The idea of the Lions remaining stuck on how well they performed last year was something that Tiber as well as associate head coach Adrianne Harlow and assistant coach Josh Ashley drove as a mindset for the group to not have moving forward.
“Our mindset has always been that this is a group of hard workers that keep fighting,” said Tiber. “There is still a lot of room for improvement for our program to get better. We tied for third place at the end of last year [ASUN standings] but we want to be the best so they are working real hard to do that.”
The ‘19-’20 Lions will be highlighted by senior guards Ivy and Emma Wallen, Kenysha Coulson, Ansley Eubank, and starting forward being Panetti. Returnees include sophomore guards Olivia Graham and Sarah Suttle, forward Jaylin Austin and redshirt freshman Savannah Holt. The Lions add more depth with new additions in freshmen guards Jalda Bond and Jalia Roberts and junior transfer Olivia Noah.
The senior group of the Wallens, Coulson, Eubanks, and Panetti have played the last two years together and will look to have a dominant last run together.
Coach Tiber will look to her seniors to lead this unit which made it an easy choice as to who her captains would be.
“I named them all captains,” said Tiber. “They are all leaders in their own way. Each one does things differently. Some are vocal and some are not. Some just lead by example. Some lead certain people in the locker room and others lead others and that’s why i personally named them all captains. They’ve been the foundation of this program. I thought they deserved captains because everything they’ve done is leadership.”
The increased depth of the team is something that coach Tiber hopes will have huge returns at the end of the season. Last season, both Wallen sisters averaged 30+ minutes per contest. Coulson, Panetti, and Eubank followed close after in minutes averaging in the high 20s. No other Lion came close to 10 or more minutes other than former player Savannah Stults.
With the amount of newcomers as well as returns, Ivy Wallen felt that the bench will be much deeper and allow for much deeper rotations.
“I feel like that’s going to make us much better this year,” said Ivy Wallen. “We will have people come in and take their positions when we need a break and it won’t be a let down.”
Coach Tiber echoes that statement by saying that she hopes to run more players that play very similar to her starters allowing a rotation close to 10 deep.
“The mindset is trying to have about seven starters and maybe one or two kids that can come off the bench,” Tiber said. “I know you can only start five but if we can get seven kids that can compete for a starting position and two others in a reserve role then we will be solid. We are close to that stage where we can get pretty comfortable with about 10.”
The Lions certainly didn’t go under the radar from last year’s performance. They will enter this season ranking third in the ASUN following a preseason coaches poll. They receive 63 total points slightly missing second place behind Liberty, who finished with 65.
They also received two unanimously voted members for the ‘19-’20 all-conference preseason team. One being Ivy Wallen, who averaged 13.9 points per game and had an ASUN leading and sixth highest nationally 6.57 assists per game. Wallen also led the ASUN in total assists with 197. The other being Panetti, who averaged a third-best ASUN scoring average of 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. She was named the Facebook Fan-voted honor of Defensive Player of the Year following a year where she blocked a school record 51 shots.
Both players are humbled by the recognition and respect of not only other coaches, but the fans and players as well. For Panetti, she also realizes that the respect comes with target on the players back.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by other coaches and teams,” said Panetti. “It’s a lot of other girls playing women’s basketball in the ASUN. It becomes even more of a reason why we need to be good. They [other teams] are going to put a target on our backs and we need to go out there and show that we are here to make a statement.”
Ivy Wallen felt that through the individual awards, the focus should always remain on the success of the team versus her own.
“I see those awards as just an individual thing,” said Wallen. “But I look at us ranked third in our conference. That’s what I see more of. Yes, it’s an honor to be first-team but I’m more into where our team was ranked overall.”
This season the Lions will play a 28 game regular season schedule. They will play two well known Division-I schools in Iowa and Iowa State. They will also play four in-state teams being Samford, Alabama State, Oakwood and Alabama A&M. Conference play will kick off in early January against North Florida, the team they lost against 55-53 in the first round of the ASUN tournament.
They start their season for a matchup in Flowers Hall against Virginia University of Lynchburg on November 7 at 6 p.m