The Francis Marion University women's basketball team will open its 2013-14 season this weekend (Nov. 8-9) at the University of Tampa Classic in Florida.
FMU will play the host school on Friday at 2:30 p.m. and will then meet Florida Southern College on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Both contests will be played in the Spartans' 3,432-season Bob Martinez Sports Center.
Fourth-year Francis Marion head coach Kate Glusko welcomes back five letterwinners, including two starters, from last year's 13-13 squad. In all, every one of the returning five started at some point during the 2012-13 campaign. Tampa returns four starters from its 19-9 squad of a year ago, while Florida Southern returns one starter from last year's 10-17 team.
FMU captured a four-point win over Tampa in 2003 in the only previous meeting between the two programs, while the Patriots and FSC have never met before on the hardwood.
Francis Marion is 28-12 all-time in season openers, and FMU has won 40 of its last 46 regular-season match-ups with non-conference opponents.
"This classic provides us with two strong opening opponents," said Glusko. "We will quickly see where we stand, where our strengths are, and what areas we may need to work on.
"I am really enjoying this team. They have embraced the journey and they want to get better. If they maintain that mentality all year, we have a very bright future."
Senior forward Dee Gray (10 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and sophomore guard Camille Dash (5.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg) are the pair who ended last season in the starting five. Among the other returnees are senior forward Kim Roach (9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg), who ranked fourth in the PBC in field goal percentage (51.5%); senior guard Erin Pinkett (6.6 ppg), who was fifth in the PBC in three-point percentage (40.3%); and junior point guard Briana Robinson (6.6 ppg), who was fifth in the conference in assists per game (4.6 apg).
The Patriots have added seven newcomers to the roster, including a pair of NCAA Division I transfers: 5-10 guard Chelsea Dukes (Delaware State University) and 5-8 junior guard Cy'erra Mills (University of North Dakota). Two junior college transfers, 5-11 forward Alaysia Watts and 5-9 forward Alexia Bell, will join 5-8 wing player Lauren Woods, a transfer from Division II Anderson University, on the Patriot roster. De'Ana Turner, a 5-11 forward from Riverdale, Ga., and Savanna Summers, a 5-11 forward from Bluffton, Tenn., are the squad's two true freshmen.
"This year's roster has more pieces for us to play with," Glusko said. "Our versatility, depth, and projected balanced scoring should be some of our strengths. Everyone must learn, understand, and embrace their role. We must value each possession and limit our turnovers."
Asked about what she learned during the squad's recent exhibition game at Division I UNC Greensboro, Glusko answered, "We competed hard, and when we were disciplined, we played very well. We also learned in the second half how undisciplined play results in poor shooting and points off turnovers for your opponent."
In the backcourt, Glusko said that Robinson and Mills will likely get the starting nods. "Cy'erra is a true point guard who's athleticism changes the way we play. She is a leader who pressures non-stop and knows where the ball needs to be on the offensive end. Her presence allows us to move Briana to the two-guard, which will create new avenues for Briana to score and increases our overall team speed.
"Camille, who gained valuable experience last year as a freshman, can add three options at the two-guard position. She can hit the three, shoot the pull-up jumper, and drive to the rim. Both Erin and Lauren are three-point threats that can stretch the defense. Chelsea is long and athletic and provides us another outside scoring threat.
"The return of Kim (Roach) and arrival of Alaysia and Alexia will allow Dee (Gray) to roam more to the outside, instead of having to play in the paint. That will allow her to use her slash to the basket skills instead of having to post up. Kim and Alaysia will provide good post play, but also two players who can step out and hit a jumper. Alexia moves well and will give us more of a physical presence in the paint.
"De'Ana is battling an ankle injury, but when healthy will give us another in-side out-side option. She has a very bright future. Both her and Savanna are also learning how hard you must work to be successful at the collegiate level."
Francis Marion's home open will be Thursday, Nov. 14, when the Patriots entertain Virginia University of Lynchburg at 5:30 p.m. as part of the RIOT at the Rim festivities. The team's 26-game regular-season slate includes 11 home contests.
The Patriots have advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament in four of the past six seasons, and own twenty-two 20-win seasons in the team's 40-year history. FMU ranks eighth among all Division II programs in all-time victories with 790.
Over the past 13 seasons, FMU is 66-5 in its last 71 games when scoring 85 points or more.
VIDEO: Season outlook from Coach Glusko
VIDEO: Meet the team