CULLOWHEE, N.C. – Western Carolina women’s basketball opened official team practice Tuesday, ahead of the 2019-20 season, under new Head Coach Kiley Hill.

“These first few weeks of team practice are crucial for us to work on the fundamentals and building the character of this team on the court,” said Hill. “We are going to be a team that is fundamentally sound and shoot the outside shot but even before that I have to make sure I know what pieces I have to build around it.”

Western Carolina spent the first day of team practice in teaching mode. Hill and his coaching staff started implementing plays along with the continuation of individual improvement and building team concepts. The team also worked on guard and post combos, shooting drills along with three on three play.  

Sophomore Jewel Smalls is the highlight of the returning players for the 2019-20 season. Smalls was named 2019 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year by the media, earned a spot on the All-Freshman team and was also a Third Team All-Conference selection by the media. She scored 330 points as a freshman marking the second-most points scored by a Western Carolina women’s basketball freshman in program history. She led the team averaging 11 points per game scoring in double figures 16 times playing in all 30 games. She concluded the season scoring in double figures in each of the final six games. 

The Catamounts welcome four newcomers, and two players back from injury, for the upcoming season. Redshirt juniors Lauren LaPlant and Tembre Moates return to the squad after injuries in the 2018-19 season. LaPlant suffered a preseason injury last year that sidelined her for the whole year while Moates only saw action in eight games before an injury halted her season.

In the 2017-18 season, LaPlant played in a total of 24 games scoring a season-best 192 total points and averaged eight points per game. She also ended that year ranked second on the team in made three-pointers with 32.

Moates was averaging 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in the first eight games of the 2018-19 season before being sidelined. She played in 24 games her sophomore year, in 2017-18, before missing the final six games of the season due to injury. In that time, she averaged 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds.  

Catamount seniors Farasia Hodge and Judith Martin Ruiz will don the purple and gold for the final season. Martin Ruiz played in all 30 games in 2018-19 scoring in double figures 13 times including career-high 20 points against UNCG on Feb. 28. Hodge also saw action in all thirty games scoring in double figures twice.

Besides Smalls, the Catamounts have two more sophomores in the squad in Jada Miller and Kayla Brown. Miller saw action in 30 games last season averaging 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Brown was hampered by injury in the early part of the season but did see action in 20 contests averaging 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and led the team with 16 blocks.

The three Catamount newcomers include Martin Ruiz’s sister Andrea Martin Ruiz along with Alyssa Walker and Diarra Smith. Junior Kyla Allison, a transfer from Middle Tennessee, rounds out the squad.