CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern returns nine lettermen to their roster and welcomes six newcomers as they open up the 2016-17 season on the road at West Virginia this Saturday.
CSU redshirt senior guard and captain Alyssa Mann is expected to once again lead the Buccaneer offense. Last season, she was the only player in the Big South to sit in the top six in multiple conference statistical categories, including points per game, assists per game and steals per game. Mann scored 20-plus points in seven different games last season, including a career-high 29 in CSU's 74-64 win over Wofford. She was selected to the 2016-17 Big South Preseason All-Conference Second team and enters the season with 853 career points, looking to become just the 15th player in CSU women's basketball history to join the 1,000 point club.
"Alyssa is the leader of this team," head coach Fred Applin said. "She's done a good job of making sure everyone understands what the season is going to be like. It's a long season."
The Buccaneers will spend the first half of the season competing against nine different NCAA conferences made up of DI and DII schools and one NAIA conference opponent.
"We made our schedule tough, especially the first half of the season, so we can be tested and learn from the level of competition schools like West Virginia and North Carolina will bring," Applin said. "We'll be able to gauge where we are and where we need to be."
Along with Mann, seniors Brianna Lakes, Nayla Long and Australia-native Elyse Kiploks will return to the floor for the Bucs. Coach Applin says he is expecting each of them to own a leadership role on the team.
"Brianna is a senior that can help us with her leadership on and off the court," Applin said. "Nayla has really stepped up and helped our freshman adjust to the collegiate level of fast-paced play and Elyse has heightened her game at the post, so I want her to score more this season."
Among the other upperclassmen returning for the Bucs is junior guard and top three-point threat Shauntavia Dobson. In the 2015-16 season, she connected on multiple three-pointers in seven games. Dobson drained a career-high eight three-pointers from behind the arc in CSU's win over Longwood and finished the year ranked seventh in the Big South in three-point percentage (32.7%).
"Shauntavia has put in the work and it needs to transfer to the game," Applin said. "She's a good shooter who can help us this year at the guard spot."
Junior transfers Breannah Bretches and Lexii Cassell are part of the six newcomers on the roster. While Cassell will redshirt this season, Applin says he's expecting Bretches to perform well for the Bucs.
"Breannah is going to be a player at the guard position that gets a lot of minutes, but she's also going to help us advance as a team," Applin said.
Along with the new transfers, Applin says he's pleased with the initiative CSU's newest returners Ke'Asia Jackson and Rachel Burns are showing as sophomores.
"Rachel and Ke'Asia are really contributing and have grown so much since last year," Applin said. "The pride they have for this team makes them constantly strive to help us get better and compete. Those two are going to be key for us this year."
"Georgia is a spot up shooter who has gotten better this year, while still learning the speed of the game," Applin said. "We are expecting Saunders to make an impact in the post and we will need her height and touch around the basket this year."
Freshman guards Aliyah Abney and Anna Webster will line up for the Bucs this season. CSU also welcomes freshman forward Tierra Steede and freshman center Jasmine Blackmon to the 2016-17 roster.
"We always preach family. I treat everyone on the team like I treat my daughters. I treat them with respect, but I also expect greatness from them," Applin said.
CSU will find out if they can rise to the occasion during soon enough. During the month of November alone, the Bucs will take on Big 12 nationally-ranked West Virginia and the North Carolina Tarheels of the ACC. In a preseason coaches' poll, Charleston Southern was ranked No. 7 in the Big South and is scheduled to begin conference play at the start of 2017 at home.
Charleston Southern season-opener at West Virginia is set for 4:00 p.m. Saturday with free live video and audio stream on WVUsports.com.