Of all the Charlotte athletic teams that made the transition this season from Conference USA to the Atlantic Ten Conference, the women’s basketball team may have the most difficult transition, 49ers coach Amanda Butler said. That, she said, is due to the deep pool of talent in the A-10.
“I think when you look at all the sports in the transition from where we’re coming from to where we’re going, we may have the toughest transit in women’s basketball,” Butler said. “The top half of our conference is really, really tough and [has] a lot of really tough places to play.”
Three A-10 teams – George Washington, Richmond and Temple – reached the NCAA Tournament last season, while Xavier advanced to the National Invitational Tournament. Charlotte also reached the NCAA Tournament, as part of C-USA.
With the addition of Charlotte and Saint Louis to the conference, the A-10 has ditched its two-division format in favor of one 14-team conference.
Temple, which became the first A-10 team to sweep the conference and win the tournament, has been predicted in a poll of A-10 coaches and select media members to win the conference.
The Owls return three starters, including all-conference selections Candice Dupree and Kamesha Hairston. Last year’s success has put the Owls in the national preseason spotlight.
The Associated Press has the Owls tabbed at No. 21. An all-America candidate, Dupree said the Owls are not concerned with rankings.
“We acknowledge it, but once we see it, it’s over with,” Dupree said. “We don’t sit there like ‘Oh, we’re No. 20 in the country.’ We say ‘We have to go out and work hard to maintain that ranking or to get a higher ranking.'”
George Washington returns four starters from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, including all-America candidate Jessica Simmonds and last season’s A-10 Rookie of the Year, Kimberly Beck.
GW graduated all-American forward Anna Montanana, who averaged 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Coach Joe McKeown has four freshman guards, each over six feet, to add size in the paint. The Colonials tied Xavier for first place in the A-10 West Division last season.
Xavier has four starters back from a team that averaged the most points per game (68.3) in the conference.
The offense is led by All-America candidate Tara Booth, who scored 20.6 points per game. Her 30-point performance in a win over Indiana State put Xavier in the WNIT quarterfinal round.
“I’d say her biggest attribute is her versatility,” Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said. “She can score around the basket. She’s really developed perimeter skills now, so she’s a really tough matchup for a lot of people.”
Richmond finished one game behind the Colonials and Musketeers in the A-10 West Division last season.
Coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years, the Spiders hand the coaching reigns to Michael Shafer, a longtime assistant coach at Georgia, to carry them deeper into the tournament.
“We’ve experienced the joy of being selected and seeing our name pop up, and now it’s time to go a little bit further and win a couple games,” Shafer said.
The Spiders return five of their six leaders in scoring from last year’s squad, but lose all-Conference guard Kate Flavin, the team leader with 16.8 points per game. Shafer said he is still looking for someone to step up in her place.
Charlotte adds another conference contender to the A-10. Led by seniors Pam Brown, Sakellie Daniels, Andrea Davidson and fourth-year junior Krystion Obie, the Niners have taken three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, the longest streak in school history. Those players will have to lead the team through two major adjustments this season – a new coach and a new conference. Daniels led the team in scoring (15.1), rebounds (7.5) and steals (2.45).
“They got us established and took the program to places it hadn’t been as early as their freshman year,” Butler said. “We’ll be relying on them heavily this year to continue to do that.”
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.