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The good news for the Barton College women’s basketball team is the Lady Bulldogs have a deep returning cast from last year’s 18-12 team that should give them a chance to return to the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time since 2013.
The bad news is that the Lady Bulldogs are going to have to weather the first month of the season without two of their best players.
“I’m excited about this group and I’m looking forward to this season,” said veteran head coach Wendee Saintsing, beginning her 29th season leading the Lady Bulldogs. “I think we have the potential to do very well. Unfortunately, we’re starting the season off without two of our best players — at least the first seven games. So that puts in a hole to begin with.”
Barton tips off its season Friday against host Lenoir-Rhyne in the South Atlantic Conference/Conference Carolinas Challenge in Hickory but the Lady Bulldogs will be without two-time all-conference first-team selection Kianna Wynn, a 6-foot-0 junior forward, and 5-10 senior forward Karimah Dean, who was second in scoring behind Wynn last season. Barton head coach Wendee Saintsing said the two players have been suspended for unspecified violations of team rules. She hopes to have Dean back for the Dec. 2 game against Conference Carolinas foe Erskine while Wynn could return for Barton’s home game Dec. 16 against league opponent Converse in the 10th game of the season.
Replacing the production of Wynn (18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds) and Dean (11.4 points, 7.1 rebounds) in the front court won’t be easy.
“They give us great inside presence, rebounding, speed defensively,” Saintsing said. “They do all the things you want your 4-5 players to do. Without them, we’re much smaller and don’t have as much depth.”
But Saintsing said there is a silver lining — should the other Lady Bulldogs make the most of their opportunity.
“They’ve all got plenty of experience but it gives them an opportunity to get on the court and get better and figure out their strengths and weaknesses and how they can help the team,” she said. “At the point we can all get on the court, I think that will make us a stronger team. It’s just going to be the journey getting there.”
Tatyana Jackson, a 5-9 senior, will resume point guard duties after battling injuries the past two season.
“She just understands game situations and sees things before they happen,” Saintsing said. “She’s a good leader for this team but she’s going to have to step up and have a very good year.”
Another returning starter, 5-9 redshirt senior forward Alex Kimble, looks to rebound from a subpar 2016-17 season after a solid sophomore campaign, the first at Barton after transferring from Div. I Sam Houston State.
“She got lost, is really what happened,” Saintsing said of Kimble’s play last year. “This year she’s back where I think she needs to be.”
Kimble will be one of the top shooters on the team, Saintsing said, an asset that will be needed in the early going without Wynn and Dean.
“Our guards are going to have to play well and we’ll have to get a majority of points from the perimeter,” Saintsing said.
Juniors Dinah Neal, Taura Jones and Jaclyn Welch are part of the backcourt rotation, although Saintsing said that Jones and Welch will likely have to move up to the front court until Dean and Wynn return.
Sophomore transfer Hanna McGrory, a Florida high school teammate of Lady Bulldogs sophomore guard Summer Baer, will bring much-needed marksmanship from 3-point range.
Saintsing said that freshmen Tayah Doss and Khayla Mitchell will see minutes at the point while redshirt senior Jasmine Fate, a Fike High product, is also expected to contribute after missing last season due to injury.
In the paint, redshirt junior Alonna Terrell and 5-10 freshman Tea Medley will have their chance early on. However, the freshman that most excites Saintsing is 6-2 center Shanika Peterkin, a native of Jamaica by way of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“She’s just an outstanding athlete,” said Saintsing. “I mean, she could probably be the best post player that ever came to Barton and left Barton in four years. I’m excited about her and her potential.”
Getting off to a good start is key since any consideration of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is often judged by a team’s performance against fellow Southeast Region foes, which comprise Barton’s first five games before a trip to Div. I High Point on Nov. 21.
“We’re just trying to figure out what we can do to win some games early. They’re all important games,” Saintsing said. “We’re definitely starting the season off with tough competition and we’ve got to step up and meet the challenge and see what we can do.”
While its early season non conference schedule is critical to its NCAA tournament chances, Barton’s road back to the tournament will certainly be through its play in Conference Carolinas, where it was picked to finish third after ending up fourth last season. The Lady Bulldogs must also contend with a quirky league schedule that has them playing their final regular-season home game Feb. 3 before five straight road games.
However, that will be a bridge to cross when Saintsing and her Lady Bulldogs get to it. For now, the focus is on Lenoir-Rhyne on Friday and Catawba on Saturday.
“Ready or not, it’s here so you’ve got to be ready to go,” she said. “We’ve been working hard and the kids have had good preseason conditioning and have been working hard in the weight room. Now we’ll get to see what we can bring on the court.”