GEORGETOWN, Texas – With all five starters returning from a team that advanced to the SCAC Finals last season, Head Women's Basketball Coach Kerri Brinkoeter and her Pirates have their sights set on a bid to the NCAA Tournament, a feat that has never been accomplished.
Anchoring this extremely talented team is senior forward Chelsea Leeder. A Preseason Third Team All-American, Leeder not only led the Pirates in nearly every category last year, but also owns the SU record for most threes in a game and season and most three point attempts in a season and career. She was selected as the SCAC Defensive and Co-Offensive Player-of-the-Year last year.
"Chelsea has been a phenomenal player for us and her passion this year has been apparent," said Coach Brinkoeter. "She has been a tireless leader for our younger players, mentoring them on and off the floor, which has been vital for us to be playing at the level we are so quickly."
Fellow seniors Lauren Elliott and Brianna Guevara have been important members of this team since their first-year, often filling holes as SU managed the changing of the guard with Coach Brinkoeter in 2010-11.
"Lauren and Bri have been very solid players," said Brinkoeter. "Lauren has really taken the younger players under her wing and made sure they understand the SU way of doing things while Bri has really become a leader for us on the floor and is always giving us all she has."
The bulk of Southwestern's experience comes from its stacked junior class as three have been starters since arriving on campus and all have served important roles. All six juniors will be a big part in how successful this team will be this season and can take this team as far as they want to go.
First Team All-SCAC pick last season, forward Jordan Owens, led the Pirates in scoring averaging 16.9 points per game from the post position, but also has the ability to step out and shoot on the perimeter. She set a new SU record with 34 points against Centenary last season and was just 1.4 points per game shy of the season average record. Owens was second on the team in rebounding at 6.8 per game, trailing team leader forward Annie Bourne. Bourne, a First Team All-SCAC selection as well, has found her niche in dominating the glass and will likely break the SU record for career rebounds this year.
Valerie Logan is a spark plug for the Pirates and runs the show from the point guard position, leading the team in assists with 104 and was fourth in steals.
Rounding out the junior class is "defensive monster" Madison Eschle. A player that opponents dread facing in the press, Eschle makes things happen on the court. She averaged 8.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game and can ignite an SU run at the drop of a hat.
"The junior class got instant success when they arrived on campus and didn't have to work as hard as others to win," said Coach Brinkoeter. "Not winning the title last year has spurred them on to work tirelessly in the offseason and as we began practice this year because now they understand what it takes to be great and reach the post season and that is where their focus is."
A small but important sophomore class includes SU's best outside threat in Audrey Garcia and a work horse Kaitlyn Rossa. Garcia had the best three point percentage among shooters from three point range at 35.4% and averaged 8.6 points per game. Rossa backed up Owens and Bourne in the post and appeared in 20 games last season, averaging 3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.
Six newcomers join the fray for Southwestern and give the Pirates the depth they need to make a run to the title. Included in that group is junior transfer McKamie Place. Place comes to SU from Howard Payne University where she competed two years for the Yellow Jackets and is a swing player who can post up as well as step out and shoot the three, making it a tough matchup for opponents.
Just as their roster is one of the toughest in the nation, so is their schedule. In the first 8 games of the season Southwestern takes on two nationally-ranked opponents in Trinity (19) and Rhodes (22) in back to back games in December while also facing upper-division opponents Texas Wesleyan and Southern Arkansas.
Southwestern opens the season on Friday as they host the Tip-off Tournament and take on Hardin-Simmons University at 8pm on Friday before facing 20-game winner Moravian College on Saturday at 5pm.
Following the opening weekend, the Pirates face back-to-back conference champions in 2012 ASC Conference Champion Concordia and 2013 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Champion Westminster.
SU digs into the heart of their conference schedule in January, beginning the New Year with five straight home games, four SCAC match-ups. Texas Lutheran and Schreiner join the fray this season and will challenge teams out of the gate.
But, to Coach Brinkoeter, success is simple. "We need to continue to gel as a team, have good practices, and play our game."