Here's five questions facing Shawnee State's womens basketball as the season prepares to tip off on Friday in the Wendy's Classic against Roberts Wesleyan.
1. Can the 2006 freshmen class be as productive as 2005's?
That's a lot to ask, but coach Robin Hagen-Smith has proven she can reload as well as any coach in the NAIA. Last season, with scholarships to work with, Hagen-Smith brought in four freshman that played in every game last season, with the exception of Kelly Wagner, who played in 32 of 33 games. Two of those players, Wagner and Karen Diehl, are penciled in as starters.
So what about the eight healthy freshmen on this year's roster? Two are going to start from day one: point guard Jennifer Grandy and center Jill Cropper. Two more are going to push for playing time: Mallory Albers and Alison Meyer.
As far as stats go, this year's recruiting class may be better because there isn't five seniors getting the majority of the playing time. Grandy and Cropper will be needed right away, even if scoring isn't their first job on the court. Albers has impressed enough to challenge junior Shannon Leasure for playing time and Meyer could also start a few games.
Will there be some game-changers in this group? Yes, and they will be needed.
2. Is Karen Diehl Shawnee State's real ‘Real Deal?'
The voice of the Bears, Skip Hickman, took to calling point guard Mandy Deal ‘The Real Deal' during her four-year career from 2002-05. Last season, Karen Diehl earned the moniker ‘The New Diehl,' when in fact, before it's all said and done, Diehl may be one of the best to play at Shawnee State.
Diehl burst onto the scene as a freshman and quickly proved she belonged. Playing behind All-American Tara Walker, Diehl showed a fearlessness off the bench attacking the basket. There were some growing pains, like the 2 for 14 performance in a 75-69 loss to Cedarville at the James A. Rhodes Athletic Center. Yet, Diehl is very capable of averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds playing in the power forward spot this season - and for the rest of her career.
3. Will Shawnee State recapture the AMC South?
It's hard to envision a scenario in which a team with one junior and no seniors can play consistently night in and night out in one of the toughest conferences in NAIA Division II. On any given night the Bears can be the best team on the court, and may even be good enough to beat four-time defending champ Cedarville. Yet, the Yellow Jackets went 18-0 in the AMC last season, so just beating Cedarville won't be enough.
4. Which Bear is poised for a breakout year?
Before a back injury put a big question mark on her season, sophomore Becky Babione looked to have the shot blocking, rebounding and athleticism to make a big jump in her second season.
Now the breakout prediction has to be given to a freshman. Expect Jennifer Grandy to have as big or bigger an impact than any freshman last season. Grandy averaged 31 points as a high school senior and didn't have as much talent around her. Now she can concentrate on running the point and distributing the ball before scoring. The points will come.
With so many parts and young athletes, Grandy will have a lot of targets while providing outside shooting the Bears haven't had at the point guard position in years.
5. Will Shawnee State make another trip to the NAIA Division II National Tournament?
Yes. The Bears have played in the national tournament three of the last four seasons without winning the conference. If Shawnee State can finish second in the conference, stay in the top 25 and make a deep run in the conference tournament, the Bears will be playing in Sioux City, IA.