Friday, November 11, 2011

Glenville State opens as WVIAC favorite

The NCAA Division II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is a meat grinder of a conference, with the 15 teams playing 22 games against each other each season. And with everyone making the year-ending conference tournament, that adds another five games or so if your team is fortunate enough to win it all.

That was the case for the women's team at Glenville State a year ago. The Pioneers finished third in the regular season with a 17-5 record (a single game behind co-regular season titlists Charleston and West Liberty), then rolled through to the tournament championship to secure a bid to the NCAA national tournament. A tough loss in the opening round to Johnson C. Smith left coach Bunky Harkleroad's team with a 23-9 mark, a great finish to his second season at Glenville State.

Now, he and the bulk of his team are back for more. The Pioneers were picked to win the WVIAC in a preseason poll, and they open the 2011-12 season Friday night in the United Electric Tip-Off Classic in Louisville, Ky., hosted by Bellarmine University. Glenville State plays American International College at 6 p.m. EST.

As I said, Coach Harkleroad has the majority of his squad back from a year ago, including leading scorer and first-team all conference member Tenisha Wilson (16.4 ppg). Others returning include Danielle Woodmore (13.6), Mishae Miles (8.9), Kenyell Goodson (7.8), Beth Deren (7.4), Tiffani Huffman (4.9, team-best 44 percent on 3-pointers) and Catherine Butcher (2.2). Huffman missed the final four games last season with a shoulder injury but returns healthy and ready to go.

Here is what Coach Harkleroad had to say about this upcoming season in an e-mail earlier this week.
(Post player LaToya Hambrick will miss the season after suffering an Achilles' injury. What does losing her mean?)

Bunky Harkleroad: Losing LaToya is a big loss. She’s an energy giver and you can never have too many of those. Losing her presence on the court is also going to hurt, she’s a physical player and plays hard. She’s doing well with her rehab and we hope to have her back next season.

(How are the new players fitting in? What do you expect of them?)

Bunky Harkleroad: Our new players are learning and doing a pretty good job of figuring things out. Every person we recruit needs to be able to help us win our league so we have high expectations for all of our new players. There’s a reason we recruited them but you never really know how they are going to respond when they smell the popcorn.

(What is your sense of the team's readiness for the season?)

Bunky Harkleroad: I think we’re ready; our players are excited and are looking forward to outside competition. I think our team has a lot of potential but it’s going to take some time for this team to emerge. I think this team will be different than any team I’ve coached and I hope we play faster than any team I’ve coached.

(You were picked to win the WVIAC. Nice to have the respect, or does that put a target on you?)

Bunky Harkleroad: We work hard to gain the respect of our opponents and, yes, I think it’s nice to be respected. BUT having said that, there’s really no reason to put much stock into a preseason rating.

We do have a bulls eye on our backs but here at GSC we’ve always had that. Our program has a great history in women’s basketball and it’s something we take pride in. We are loved at home and hated on the road. It’s not always easy to get our kids to realize that at first but after a few games they are quick to realize that we get everybody’s best shot.

(A social media question: you and the players often joke around with each other on Twitter, something I think most coaches seem to discourage. What is your take on this? Would you feel differently if you were at a NCAA Division I school?)

Bunky Harkleroad: I can see why some coaches don't like it. I think it’s sometimes difficult to get our kids to realize that they have to be careful and watch what they Tweet or post on (Facebook).

Our basketball team is pretty tight knit and we don’t take ourselves so serious that we can’t laugh at ourselves and give each other a hard time. It’s also a good way for us to keep people involved in our program.

If I were a D-I coach I don’t think I’d view it much differently. I’d probably make more of an effort to ensure that our kids were a little more careful about what they are posting.

A huge thanks to Coach Harkleroad, as always. I wish him and Glenville State the best of luck in Louisville, and I hope to follow the action online.

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