Clarksville, Ark.-First-year University of the Ozarks head women's basketball coach Christina Jost inherits three starters from a team that made the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season.
<#IMAGE:1#>Jost, who was the assistant coach the past two seasons, saw the team turn the corner last season, and set the tone for another possible run at post-season play. The Lady Eagles went 12-14 overall and 11-11 in league play, thus earning the No. 3 seed in last year’s playoff bracket. “I think it was huge going to the tournament last season,” said Jost. “I believe we can carry some of that momentum into this season. We want to make the tournament and take it one step further this year. I think we will be fine as far as leadership and experience goes.” Six players who saw significant action return for the upcoming season. While a strength of the team will be experience, size-wise, the Lady Eagles may have a tough time matching up with bigger teams typically found in the competitive American Southwest Conference. Jost faces the challenge of putting a team on the floor with only one player taller than 6-feet, but she believes her team can overcome that size disadvantage by out hustling their opposition. “Our biggest challenge is the lack of team height and size,” said Jost. “That’s a challenge when we go up against bigger teams. That is why we have to be scrappy and all over the court. We’ll need to stay tough both mentally and physically, and we have to do this for forty minutes because of our size. We want to go all out and that’s definitely our mentality this year.” An experienced group, combined with good chemistry, could pay big dividends to this year’s team, according to Jost. “Our core group has been playing together for the last few years,” said Jost. “They know each other’s tendencies. In terms of chemistry, I am not worried about that at all. Their attitudes are great. I am not worried about leadership, work ethic or attitudes. All these kids have that, and that makes my job a lot easier.” Mandi Carter returns for her final season at Ozarks. At 6-foot-1, the athletic Carter can cause matchup problems because of her strong inside game and the ability to run the floor. She earned second team All-Conference honors last season after averaging 13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Carter, a three-time All-Conference performer, shot 50.5 percent from the field, seventh-best in the ASC. She displayed her all-around game when she scored 16 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, blocked 6 shots and dished out 5 assists, in the final regular season contest of the year. “Mandi brings valuable scoring and rebounding to the team,” said Jost. “Last year, she led by example, and in terms of leadership, I think she will be more of a vocal leader this year. I look for her to be even stronger inside. Her work ethic and what she brings into practice are what sets her apart. Her teammates recognize her efforts and that rubs off on them. She loves the game. She is a player that is in this on her own.” Returning starters Lindsey Nietert and Erica Eneks solidify the point guard and shooting guard position. Nietert, a 5-foot-8 senior, started in all 26 games a year ago and averaged 5.4 points per game while averaging 2.6 assists. Eneks, a 5-foot-7 junior, earned honorable mention all-conference after averaging 11.2 points and shooting 33 percent from the three-point arc. She hit 83 percent from the free throw line. “Lindsey has played here for four years,” said Jost. “She is our most vocal leader on the court. She stepped into a big role for us last year and did a great job. She is a kid that has a competitive drive, and that will help us win games.” “Erica is a big threat from the three-point line,” said Jost. “She stepped up her defensive game a lot last year too. She harassed the opposing point guards and I think she will continue to do that.” The forward position will be bolstered by four-year letterman Jeanne Randall, who saw action in 18 games last season. Randall, 5-foot-10, is a 32 percent career three-point shooter, and has shown flashes of scoring skill inside and on the perimeter. Sophomore Savannah Carter can also play the guard position, but will be expected to contribute at forward. Carter, 5-foot-9, saw action in 20 games as a true freshman and hit 71 percent from the free throw line. Junior Karen Garcia has showed ability to score at the guard position, evidenced by a 25-point outburst her freshman season. Garcia will be joined by sophomore Chandra Briggs in the backcourt. The savvy Briggs demonstrated the capability to distribute the ball last season after averaging nearly 3.0 assists per game. The Lady Eagles, who were picked fifth in the ASC preseason coaches’ poll, averaged 74 points per game last season and will continue to push the ball, according to Jost. “We will try to keep our pace up-tempo again this year,” said Jost. “We want to generate a lot of our points from our defense. We are really emphasizing defense effort this year.”