There is nowhere to go but up for Lincoln Trail College's women's basketball team, which is exactly what expectations are for the Lady Statesmen this season.
Following a 1-28 campaign in head coach Scott Sparks' first year with the team, the Lady Statesmen have a talented crop of recruits that should help them improve on that mark significantly this season.
"We're excited and we have a great group of kids," Sparks said. "We were very fortunate to get everyone we went after."
After struggling at times to have enough bodies just to play games last year, the Lady Statesmen have 14 players healthy enough to play this season and all have the opportunity to make significant contributions.
"We are skilled at all positions, are big at all positions and very athletic," Sparks said. "We have three really good post players, we have some good forwards and we have gotten a lot better at both guard positions."
Making up the roster this season are a couple of returnees, along with some key transfers and a host of talented freshmen.
Returning for the Lady Statesmen are 5-6 guard Danielle Nettleton (Mt. Carmel) and 5-6 guard-forward Ted'Ra Taborn (Vincennes, Ind.). Another returnee, 5-8 guard-forward Andrea Rivera (Plainfield, Ind.) will miss the season due to a knee injury. The biggest addition is 6-3 Murray State transfer Elizabeth Mahurin (Rockville, Ind.), while 5-7 sophomore guard-forward Tiesha Hampton (Milwaukee, Wisc.), who missed last season due to injury. Other sophomores who are new to the program are 5-9 forward Aaliyah Johnson (Flemingsburgh, Ky.) and 5-7 guard Kearra Holt (Goodlettsville, Tenn.). Rounding out the roster are 5-7 freshman guard Jada Grady (Louisville, Ky.), 5-8 freshman guard-forwards Blayr Poston (Cedar Lake, Ind.) and Autumn Brown (Indianapolis, Ind.), 5-9 freshman guard-forward Jordan Like (Petersburg, Ind.), 5-7 freshman guard Jazmyn Hardiman (Evansville, Ind.), 6-2 freshman forward Taylor Birchfield (Casey), 6-2 freshman center Abigail Gober (Boonville, Ind.) and 6-3 freshman center Kearia Pennie (Louisville, Ky.).
While there were times last year when seven players were all Sparks had suiting up, he believes he has a group of at least seven that are vying for the five starting slots.
"Our starting group is still undecided because we've got about seven kids that could easily start," Sparks said. "I've been really happy with what I've seen so far."
With the upgrade in the size department, Sparks believes his team's best chance at success is to utilize his post players as much as possible.
"Our bigs are skilled, strong and they play hard," Sparks said. "We want to get the ball inside and let them be effective. We will still be looking to press on defense and push the ball some, but we definitely want to work inside out on offense."
One of the biggest concerns Sparks has is getting his players up to speed on how the game is played at the junior college level. Most of his players haven't played college basketball at this point, which can lead to some growing pains.
"We essentially have 10 freshmen that haven't seen the pace that college basketball brings," Sparks said. "The pace of play is harder and faster at each level. The kids have to be ready to go hard all the time. We just have to get them acclimated and get them to understand the pace of the game."
As with any coach, wins and losses are important, but Sparks has much broader goals that just what his team does on the court.
"Our goals are the same as last year, which starts with doing well in the classroom," Sparks said. "We want to build a program that is successful in the classroom. It is hard to recruit if you don't have 100 percent graduation. We want the kids to work hard in the classroom and help make them become better people."
When it comes to what they want to do on the court, Sparks has both short-term and long-term goals for the program.
"We want to be competitive in all our games and never give up no matter the score," Sparks said. "While we want to win as much as possible, you only need to win three games at the end of the season to go to the national tournament. From November to March, we have to work on preparing for those three games. You have to be good to get to that level, but you also have to be lucky. Luck has a lot to do with preparation, so we need to prepare ourselves to be lucky."
Regardless of how the season winds up, expectations are higher for the Lady Statesmen, but Sparks also knows there is still a lot of work to be done to get the program where he wants it to go.
"We've got a solid foundation, but we have got to keep building," Sparks said. "We want to build this program up like it has been in the past and start winning some championships here. We've got great kids and I hope everybody in the community gets to know these kids because they really are great people."
Lincoln Trail opens their season Tuesday, when they play host to Division III MacMurray College for an exhibition game at 5:30 p.m.
2013-14 Lincoln Trail College Women's Basketball Roster
No. Name Yr. Ht. Pos. Hometown
3 Danielle Nettleton So. 5-6 G Mt. Carmel, Ill.
4 Tiesha Hampton So. 5-7 G/F Milwaukee, Wisc.
10 Aaliyah Johnson So. 5-9 F Flemingsburgh, Ky.
11 Jada Grady Fr. 5-7 G Louisville, Ky.
12 Andrea Rivera So.(RS) 5-8 G/F Plainfield, Ind.
14 Blayr Poston Fr. 5-8 G Cedar Lake, Ind.
22 Elizabeth Mahurin So. 6-3 C Rockville, Ind.
23 Autumn Brown Fr. 5-8 G/F Indianapolis, Ind.
24 Kearra Holt So. 5-7 G Goodlettsville, Tenn.
25 Ted'ra Taborn So. 5-6 G/F Vincennes, Ind.
31 Jordan Like Fr. 5-9 G/F Petersburg, Ind.
32 Jazmyn Hardiman Fr. 5-7 G Evansville, Ind.
34 Abigail Gober Fr. 6-2 C Boonville, Ind.
44 Taylor Birchfield Fr. 6-2 F Casey, Ill.
45 Kearia Pennie Fr. 6-3 C Louisville, Ky.
Head coach: Scott Sparks
Assistant coach: Jennifer DesJean
2013-14 Lincoln Trail College Women's Basketball Schedule