Clarksville, Ark.-Entering the 2007-2008 season, head coach Christina Jost must find replacements for three starters and the Lady Eagles must overcome a lack of size in order to make their third straight playoff appearance.
Ozarks finished 9-17 overall and 7-13 in the American Southwest Conference last season, and made the playoffs for the second straight season. The Lady Eagles lost nearly 60 percent of their scoring due to graduation, including Mandi Carter, the program’s second all-time leading scorer and rebounder. The 2007-2008 roster has numerous new faces and few inside players, but Jost will make up for the lack of size by using a bevy of perimeter players. A deep pool of guards, one of which has scored nearly 1,000 career points, will be a key to the team’s success.
“Mandi left some big shoes to fill,” said Jost, who led the squad to the playoffs in her first year at the helm. “We brought in three freshmen to contribute in the post. They will be sharing time inside, and hopefully they can make up for some of the void left by Mandi. We are just not very big inside.”
Offensively, the Lady Eagles will continue their run-n-gun style to take advantage of their depth at the guard position.
“We will look to run a four-out, one-in motion offense,” said Jost. “We want our perimeter players to get a lot of movement off the ball and set screens to get our shooters open. We want to push the ball and run, probably even more than in previous years. We hope to get a lot of fast break points.”
Senior guard Erica Eneks is back for her fourth year as a starter. Eneks, 5-foot-7, has proven to be one of the top scorers in the program’s history. With 970 career points, she is on track to be among the top five all-time scorers at Ozarks. Eneks can be dangerous in the open floor and as a spot-up shooter, according to Jost.
“She has been very successful so far, but I’m looking for her to have a breakout year where she is unstoppable,” said Jost. “I don’t think she has shown the conference what she is totally capable of. She can be a very dangerous player. She has great movement off the ball and has a quick release. We are counting on her providing big things this year. I think she will step into more of a leadership role this season too.”
Junior point guard Chandra Briggs returns as the other starter for Ozarks. Briggs, 5-foot-6, averaged 5.0 points per game and led the team in assists (3.5). The steady Briggs has keen court awareness, according to Jost. Savannah Carter returns for her junior season, and will play both guard and forward. Carter started in five games last season, averaging 5.1 points and 4.0 rebounds. Senior Karen Garcia will see plenty of action in the guard rotation. Garcia, 5-foot-5, averaged 4.5 points per game last season, and had a 19-point outburst against Schreiner on the road. Garcia, who has played in 67 career games, will be relied upon for her leadership and experience.
“Chandra did a solid job for us last season,” said Jost. “We want her to elevate her game even more this season. She pushes the ball and sees the court very well. Savannah is coming off a productive year. She is just an all-around athletic player. She can play both the wing and guard position. She is probably one of our strongest defenders. I think both Erica and Karen are ready to take on the role as senior leaders. They compliment each other well in terms of their leadership styles.”
Sophomore Kristyn Shinn and junior Emma Cantele provide depth and experience at the guard position. Jost believes both Shinn and Cantele provide the Lady Eagles with energy on the court.
Added to the mix is 5-foot-8 senior Hope Ellison. Ellison transferred from St. Gregory’s University where she averaged nearly nine points per game. Jost expects Ellison to make an immediate impact, using her versatility to cause match-up problems for their opponents.
“Hope will help both inside and outside,” said Jost. “She will certainly have the green light from the outside. She is a strong kid who can drive hard to the basket. We are counting on her to put up points this year.”
In addition to a strong outside shooting game, Jost believes another strength of the team will be its intensity on the court.
“Our outside shooting is one of the strengths of the team,” said Jost. “But from a defensive standpoint we will be scrappy. I have a lot of kids that are not afraid of getting after it. They will dive on the floor and take charges when needed. This team wants to win and be competitive.”
Despite all of the new faces and an unproven inside presence, Jost believes her team has a good chance of extending their post-season streak.
“We have a lot of new faces this year,” said Jost. “They will need to mesh with each other, and that will take some time. We want to make it back to the playoffs. We have some challenges in front of us though. But I’m confident that we can contend for a playoff spot. I’m pleased with the newcomers we have and the returners we have.”
Ozarks will open the season in a Thanksgiving Tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn. Their first home game will be on December 15 against Schreiner University.