“Every year is a new year and every year is a different challenge,” Hagen-Smith said.
Playing under Hagen-Smith, the Bears have made it a routine to consistently play in the NAIA National Tournament which has included 11 Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights, two Fab Fours, one National Runner-up and a National Championship in 1999.
“We are looking forward to having another fantastic season, I have a lot of confidence in this program,” Hagen-Smith said.
Hagen-Smith, who entered the season with a career mark of 590-146, is now only seven wins away from 600 after a 3-1 start to its season. Once she reaches 600, Hagen-Smith be the fifth coach in NAIA history to reach the plateau.
The Bears are coming off a Fab Four run after switching from the American Midwest Conference in NAIA Division II to the Division I-affiliated Mid-South Conference in just one year.
Shawnee State ended last year’s season strong in the conference touranment, beating teams such as the University of the Cumberlands (KY), Lindsey Wilson (KY) and Campbellsville (KY) and then making an improbable run to the Fab Four.
“The conference is tough, all the teams are the best in the nation and they are all in the conference,” Hagen-Smith Said.
After the late-season success last year, the Bears were voted preseason fourth in the NAIA Division I poll.
“The expectations are high, we must concentrate one game at a time and function at the highest level,” Hagen-Smith said. “I have a lot of confidence that will do just that.”
There are high hopes with this year’s squad. Hagen-Smith will have four starters back from a 27-10 squad.
Leading Shawnee State is the senior and Third Team All-American Abby Ballman, who led the Bears in scoring a year ago with 13 points a game. Ballman, who recently scored her 1,000th career point for the Bears, is considered to be one of the best floor generals Hagen-Smith has coached.
“She is one of the greatest leaders we have ever had, most player’s dream of doing that and Abby is a big reason why our team has success,” Hagen-Smith said.
The three other returning starters are junior Catrice Mitchell and sophomores Alannah Sheets and Tabby McKinney. Mitchell, who stands at 6-3, is the lady in the middle and may be a force to be reckoned with as she tallied 46 blocks last season and just over eight points a game.
Sheets and McKinney could become a scoring duo with experience under their belts. They showed maturity in the NAIA National Tournament with eight and six points per game averages respectively.
However, the Bears will have to look for youth to help them make another deep tournament run. Shawnee State’s roster will have five freshmen and could be counted on for minutes.
Erin Dailey Rachel Young could be counted on the most.
“Dailey has great timing and is very good defensively,” Hagen-Smith said. “Young is just bang, bang, bang, she is deadly from outside.”
Although Shawnee State will be one of the teams to beat in the MSC, Coach Hagen-Smith is not taking anything for granted.
“Everyone is coming at us,” Hagen-Smith said. “They are bringing their best shot and they have nothing to lose when they play us.”
Shawnee State defeated host Walsh University 61-58 Saturday afternoon. The Bears are in the midst of a nine-game road trip to start the season and won’t play their first home game until Dec. 1.