Clarksville, Ark.-Kelly Stutz takes over the helm of the University of the Ozarks women's basketball team and inherits a club that went 10-15 a year ago while ending the season in a respectable fourth-place finish in the American Southwest Conference East Division.
Stutz’s team appears to be in a rebuilding mode for the upcoming 2004-2005 season. Ozarks does not return a starter and returns only one senior from last year’s team that averaged 61.5 points per contest. They do, however, return five quality lettermen and have displayed a solid work ethic in the preseason, according to Stutz. "The team is improving every day and that’s been our main goal so far," said Stutz. "We are very focused on improving each day. If you take care of the daily goals, the long-term goals will take care of themselves. We’ve also been really happy with their work ethic. I think their work habits and their willingness to do new things has been a huge plus for this team." Ozarks ended the 2003-2004 season on a positive note by winning their final two league games by an average of 15 points. The Lady Eagles finished last season with a 6-8 league record. "We will push the ball on the offensive end," said Stutz, who served as the assistant coach at Ashland University in Ohio the past four seasons. "We want to get the ball quickly up the court. We are not very big on the inside, but we have some kids that are more than ready to step up. Jeanne Randall has a nice outside shot and DeAnna Miller has adjusted well to her new inside position." Guard play may be the strength of the squad. Ozarks has experienced shooters in Lori Moon, Lindsey Nietert and Becky Kimball. "Lori and Lindsey have worked hard and are natural leaders and Becky has been knocking down three-pointers consistently," said Stutz. "I really don’t know who will be our go-to scorer. Most of the teams I’ve been around that have been really successful don’t have that one go-to player. They can score from all different positions and that’s the game we are trying to create with this team. Whoever is open will take the shot. We have confidence in everyone out there." Stutz will need to rely on a talented crop of freshman this year. Accomplished high school guards Karen Garcia and Erica Eneks were each All-State performers their senior seasons and will give Ozarks a potent three-point attack. "We will be more guard-oriented than we have been in the past," said Stutz. "Most of our experience is in the guard position and that’s where our natural scorer’s are. We will run a more wide-open offense. The shot selection will be different. We may come down the court and make one pass and then take a shot. I think that plays into our hands because of our personnel." Size could be a problem for the Lady Eagles as Stutz has only one player taller than 6-0. The 5-8 Randall has been a consistent scorer during the preseason while 6-1 post Olivia Fisher provides athleticism on the inside. Junior 5-11 newcomer Erica Newell gives the Lady Eagles additional inside play. "I think our post players will surprise our opponents the most," said Stutz. "They have been really working hard to make themselves into legitimate scorers." With an expanded ASC playoff format, the Lady Eagles look to improve on their fourth-place finish last season and will aim for one of the top four spots in the East Division to gain a playoff berth. To prepare for the conference slate, the Lady Eagles will face a tough non-conference schedule which includes perennial contenders Oklahoma Baptist University, John Brown University and Hendrix College. "We have a challenging schedule in front of us," said Stutz. "The positive side of that is win or lose, good teams reveal weaknesses. The early test will be good for us. Those games will prepare us for the conference schedule." The Lady Eagles begin the season on the road when they face Oklahoma Baptist University on November 19 in the John Brown Classic at 6 p.m. in Siloam Springs.