CULLOWHEE, N.C. -- With a veteran team and high expectations, Western Carolina women's basketball began official team practice on October 1 in preparation for the 2017-18 season.
After not having a senior on the squad last year, the Catamounts now boast five seniors that have seen extensive action on the court. The Catamounts also welcome two junior transfers in Kennedy Rushin and Judith Martin Ruiz.
"The official first day of practice had a different feel from the days of not being able to practice with your team in the preseason, but it still comes with a lot of excitement because it signifies another step closer to the start of the season," said Head Coach Stephanie McCormick. "After having 2 days of Official Practices, I am encouraged about the start of this season."
Western Carolina welcomes back a promising blend of offensive and defensive prowess.
Senior forward Sherae Bonner had a successful junior campaign and was rewarded with a spot on the Southern Conference All-Conference third team. She ranked second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.1 points per game, and ripped down an average of 8.8 rebounds per game which ranked second in the SoCon. She went over 600 career rebounds and enters the 2017-18 season with 655 ranking her 12th in the WCU record books. She also had 41 blocks for the 2016-17 season and for her career has 103 ranking her fourth in the record books.
The top returning scorer for Western Carolina is junior guard Raziyah Farrington who just edged out Bonner averaging 10.3 points per game last season. She played in all 30 games last season and scored a team-leading 308 points. She scored in double digits 16 times and ranked third on the team with 43 assists.
Mitchem had a break-out season in her junior campaign averaging a career-best 5.2 points per game in 2016-17 and played in all 30 games. Hatfield and Brown are two forwards who bring experience and basketball savvy to the court with Brown averaging 5.5 points per game in 30 games played.
Hough, as the point guard for the team, brings a heady sense to the court and knows how to dish out the basketball as she led the team last season with 80 assists. She also averaged 6.2 points per game. Looking more closely at the depth of the Catamounts, Western Carolina has just two juniors returning from last season. Along with Farrington, Angel Allen will return for her third year with Western Carolina. She saw action in all 30 games and started 15 averaging 2.0 points per game.
The two remaining juniors for WCU are transfers Rushin and Martin Ruiz. Rushin was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school and signed with Louisiana Tech. After deciding to not go to La Tech, she spent two years at Gulf State Community College. The 6-6 forward spent two seasons at Gulf Coast. Martin Ruiz will bring some European flair to Western Carolina as the native of Spain will make her US debut as a Catamount this fall.
Four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen round out the 15-person roster for Western Carolina in 2017-18. Forward Tess Harris had a strong finish to last season starting the final five games of the season and scoring in double figures in seven of her 22 games played. She led the team, last season, with 37 three-pointers and scored a career-high 23 points against North Greenville. Tembre Moates, Nikki Johnson and Lauren LaPlant also saw extensive action in the 2016-17 season and are expected to contribute in the upcoming season. Erykah Russell and Mariah Locklear are two players who took a redshirt last season and are expected to make an impact in the upcoming season.
"After two days of official practice, I am encouraged about the start of this season," McCormick admitted. "This team has dominated a tough preseason full of obstacles and has grown together as more of a family than I've seen in my previous two years. It's nice as a coach to not have to explain every drill we do from scratch. We only have two new faces and they bring a totally different dimension to our team so that's been a little bit of an adjustment, but it hasn't slowed our process down at all. We've been able to hit the court running and we're all optimistic about how that propels the process for this program."
Western Carolina opens the season at home on Friday, Nov. 10 hosting former Southern Conference foe Davidson.