Pacer women set to tip off season
It’s common for a coach to want to see things move quickly, but second-year head coach Mark Miller knows it’s going to take some time for things to come together on the court for his USC Aiken women’s basketball team.
With nine newcomers compared to just three returners and an absolute grind of a schedule, Miller knows he has to keep himself patient.
“It’ll be a challenge, night in and night out. There are no cupcakes on our schedule,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s an extremely difficult schedule for us. But my philosophy is to be the best, you’ve got to play the best. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do that every year, and we’ll be ready to go come playoff time.”
USCA is coming off a 14-15 season last year, during which the Pacers went 10-9 in Peach Belt Conference play and advanced to the conference tournament.
This year’s team will have a very different look. Nine new faces dot the roster, and the Pacers will be without their star from last season – PBC Freshman of the Year Kwajelin Farrar will miss this season due to a knee injury after averaging 14.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
It’s a huge loss, and Miller said his team will have to regroup. The Pacers will be led by returners Melyk Taouil, Celine Vega, Emily Waters, all of whom saw significant minutes last season and have been a good carry-over in terms of communicating to the new players what it takes to be successful.
“All three of them have gotten better. I expect all three of them to contribute to our team, some more than others,” said Miller. “But they all need to be a big part of it. They’ve been through a year with me. They know what to expect.”
Managing nine new players – new personalities, new roles, etc. – can be a daunting challenge, and Miller hasn’t ever dealt with this many new players before. But it’s a recruiting class full of players he hand-picked, meaning all nine do the things – work hard, defend, rebound, don’t turn the ball over – he looks for in a player.
“It wasn’t a secret,” he said. “Last year’s group, there was a little bit of a secret. This year, there’s no secret. They know what is expected.”
Among those newcomers is former North Augusta Yellow Jacket Lonesha Lee, who brings with her a winning attitude and a Class AAAA state championship ring.
“Obviously, coming from that kind of program, she expects to win. And that’s part of the reason why I like her here. She does expect to win,” said Miller, who has seen Lee make progress after a slow start typical of freshmen. ”... It’s been a quiet surprise for us, and I think that’s her personality and that’s kind of her background M.O. I know she wasn’t the main person at North Augusta, but I think she’s going to be able to contribute here.”
The Pacers were picked to finish sixth in the PBC in the preseason coaches poll, trailing, in order, No. 15 Lander, Columbus State, Francis Marion, Clayton State and North Georgia. A new-look PBC has league members playing 22 conference games – 11 home-and-homes against each other league team – leaving little room for non-conference games.
“It’s brutal. We play seven games that are against somebody that’s preseason Top 25, so far,” Miller said. “We have two other games with somebody that are receiving votes in some kind of poll that’s been around here. So that already makes it different.”
USCA begins its season at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Carson-Newman at the Convocation Center as part of the PBC/SAC Challenge, an event that also features No. 24 Lincoln Memorial and Lander. The Pacers host Lincoln Memorial at 4 p.m. Saturday.