Coming off a season that saw them win the USA South Conference East Division title, the Averett women’s basketball team is under new direction heading into the 2019-20 season, but the ultimate goal remains unchanged.
Aby Diop assumes leadership of the program this season after spending three years as an assistant at Shenandoah in Winchester. As a first-time head coach, she said she’s thankful to come to Averett where a culture and foundation already have been put in place.
“I have some great student- athletes,” she said. “They had a really good season last year, and I’m fortunate to come into this program with some really good athletes and try to take things to the next level.”
The Cougars went 18-9 last season, losing to Berea College in the conference semifinals. The opinion around the team is they have the talent to meet or exceed that mark this season.
“If everybody’s bought-in, we can get even further than what we did last year,” said senior guard Samantha Tecson, one of five returning seniors along with Brooke Carthon, Kiara Smith, Ravyn Johnson and Zenise Chambers.
Carthon returns as the team’s leading scorer from a year ago (16.7 per game).
“I would expect her to do the same for us this year,” Diop said. “When we need a bucket, I think everybody’s looking to her to get that for us.”
Johnson is back in the fold as the team’s leading rebounder (9.6), and Smith averaged 8.3 points and nearly four rebounds while making 26 starts in 2018-19.
Diop expects sophomore point guard Camryn Lunsford to spearhead a defensive effort that will lead to points in transition. Smith, Tecson and freshman Courtney Scott also will play key roles as guards in the hopes of turning defense into offense.
“I have a pretty fast group and I want to play fast and get out in transition and try to get easy points,” Diop said.
Lunsford, who played 18.6 minutes per game last year and averaged 5.1 points, will see an increased role this season. She’s particularly excited about the kind of offensive pressure the team’s guards will be able to put on opponents.
“Most of our guards are combo guards,” she said, “so on our transition we’re able to pull up and shoot the 3 or we can drive and go to the basket since we’re threats [at both].”
Averett opens its season at 6 p.m. today at Emory & Henry. Its home opener will be against Lynchburg at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Grant Center.
“I’m excited to start off the season against some really good teams and see where we’re at,” Diop said. “I think we can compete with both of those teams. It will tell us a lot. I’m looking for their effort and just playing hard, setting the tone for the start of our season.”
After three consecutive 18-9 campaigns, the Cougars are ready for more and believe they have the personnel in place to make a run for the top of the conference once again.
“Since we do have so many returners, we know what we need to do,” Lunsford said. “We have to keep in the back of our minds that we have a target on our back now, so everybody’s going to come at us.”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.