When Jonathan Norton accepted his first head coaching job at Lander, he took over a team coming off a one-win season. His next stop, at Berry, had him leading a team in turmoil after its coach quit midseason.
Norton got a different situation when he was hired as Columbus State women’s basketball coach. He inherited a squad with six seniors, many who have postseason experience, and includes an All-American and reigning conference player of the year.
“It’s been nice not having to start from scratch,” Norton said. “I’ve got six players right now who had a great season last year and who all played well. It’s really a good situation. We’ve got a senior-laden team that’s experienced and ready for a tough Peach Belt schedule. They’re battle-tested.”
When CSU opens the season at 8 p.m. today against No. 20 Lenoir-Rhyne at the Mars Hill Classic, the Cougars get back senior Turelle Jones, who sat out last season injured, and return five other seniors: Ashley Stafford, Lauren Ringfield, Monique Jefferson, Hali Moore and All-American Phebe Smith.
Smith said she is looking for ways to top her junior year, when she led the conference in rebounds and points.
“I feel like I want to repeat all of the things I did last year, like all the scoring and the rebounds — but, more than anything, the scoring,” Smith said. “We have some goals we want to accomplish in our senior year, and we’re going to need a lot of scoring to do it.”
Smith often had to battle double and triple teams last season but can expect to get some breathing room with some more depth at point guard. Norton said he will start junior transfer Deniese Campbell at point guard and substitute returning sophomore Nikki Urbizo and junior transfer Nakita Holt.
“I feel like the point guards will be big for us this year,” Jones said. “Not only can they pass it in to Phebe or our other post players, but they can shoot it, and they can all take it in and score themselves.”
Kelsie Weynand (Hardaway) is the Cougars’ only freshman. CSU added junior transfers Renee Jackson, Tara Tranum and sophomore Yasha Blount (Columbus).
With all of the roster additions, the Cougars will be missing two players. Senior guard Chauntel Ferdinand suffered a knee injury and is expected to miss the entire season, and Rosetta Hollis is ineligible.
Columbus State continues play at the classic at 6 p.m. Saturday against Mars Hill.
Chris White, 706-571-8571