Oct. 30, 2008
Charlotte, N.C. - Three Western Carolina Catamounts were tabbed preseason All-Southern Conference on Thursday as the league announced its annual preseason Coaches' Polls and all-conference squads at its annual Media Tip-off Rouser held at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel.
Women's basketball seniors Brooke Johnson and Lauren Powell, and men's basketball junior Brandon Giles were each named to their respective preseason all-conference teams. For Johnson, the preseason nod is her second-straight, also earning preseason plaudits a year ago, with Powell honored for the second time in her career. Giles earned his first career preseason recognition after making the All-SoCon squad at season's end a year ago.
For a second-consecutive year, the Lady Catamounts picked up three first place votes to finish six poll points behind preseason conference favorite, Chattanooga. The predicted runner-up prognostication matches the best-ever in school history for Western Carolina, equaling that of last year. Over the past two seasons, UTC and WCU have finished in the top two spots of the league standings, with the Lady Catamounts marking the only team other than the Lady Mocs to win a SoCon Tournament title since 2001.
Behind WCU and UTC, Davidson was tabbed third on the women's side despite garnering preseason Player of the Year in Mercedes Robinson, with SoCon newcomer, Samford, tabbed fourth, seven points behind the Wildcats. Georgia Southern (62) was predicted to finish fifth this season while the College of Charleston (52) was the sixth team chosen. UNC Greensboro (42), Furman (35) and Wofford (34) held down the seventh, eighth and ninth slots, respectively while the two teams which introduced new head coaches in the offseason, Appalachian State (22) and Elon (21), occupied the final two slots.
Johnson, who saw her junior season cut short by a knee injury just 11 games into last season, is one of Western's most highly touted returning players this season. Prior to her injury on December 20, the Seymour, Tenn., native was averaging 11.9 points per game, having scored in double figures in nine of the 11 games and thrice leading the team in scoring. She also pulled down a career-high 20 rebounds against Middle Tennessee on December 2.
In her first season after transferring from Carson-Newman, Johnson had an immediate impact with an average of 14.7 points per game, while earning All-SoCon Tournament honors after blocking a tourney-record eight shots.
Powell, who also garnered preseason All-SoCon accolades in 2006-07 after earning SoCon Freshman of the Year plaudits in 05-06, is a 6-0 guard that has long range behind the arch. The sharp-shooting Asheville, N.C., native enters her final season ranked third in the WCU's career record books for 3-pointers made with 169. She also became the 20th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 points last season, currently with 1,035 in her career. Powell started 33 of her 34 appearances a season ago, averaging 8.9 points per game and leading the team in scoring seven times.
On the men's side, Western Carolina was tabbed fifth out of the six-team SoCon North Division, with the conference's newest member - Samford - tabbed sixth by the league's head coaches. It is the third time under fourth-year head coach Larry Hunter that the Catamounts were tabbed fifth in their division.
Chattanooga and Davidson were listed as the preseason favorites to win the two respective divisions in men's competition. The Mocs, who return three starters from last year's 18-13 (13-7 SoCon) team, were tabbed as the preseason favorites in the North Division. They earned 66 points, the maximum allowed in the coaches balloting. Elon was selected second in the division with 49 points, followed by Appalachian State (48) and UNC Greensboro (33) fourth.
Davidson garnered 11 first-place votes and was named the preseason favorite in the South Division. The Wildcats return three starters from last year's team that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in Detroit, site of the 2009 Final Four. College of Charleston was picked to finish second in the South, garnering 56 points, while Georgia Southern earned 43 points to finish third in preseason balloting, followed by Wofford (32), Furman (29) and The Citadel (22).
Giles, an All-Southern Conference selection a season ago, is WCU's leading returning scorer after averaging a team-best 15.3 points per game, which includes an active 18-game, double-digit scoring streak. He ranked fourth in the league in scoring last season and scored in double figures in 20 of the last 21 games before an automobile accident forced him to miss the final four games of the season. A native of Auburndale, Fla., Giles paced the Catamount offense in 14 games including a career-best 32 points at home against the College of Charleston.
Both Western Carolina basketball teams open their respective seasons on the road on Friday, Nov. 14. The Lady Catamounts will face North Carolina in the preseason WNIT in Chapel Hill, while the Catamounts visit Storrs, Conn., and the two-time National Champion Connecticut Huskies. WCU's women are on the road for their first four contests of 2008-09, while the men will tune-up for the school's first-ever appearance in the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout over Thanksgiving with a home date with Toccoa Falls on Nov. 20 in the Ramsey Center.