Basketball gets no love in preseason rankings

Mark Shanahan, Assistant Sports Editor

The Eastern women’s basketball team was predicted to finish last in the Ohio Valley Conference according to a preseason poll and they are looking to improve from last season’s 3-25 overall record.

Coach Debbie Black is going into her fourth season as head coach and will be returning seven players while adding four incoming freshman. It will be another young Panther team as forward Erica Brown is the lone senior on the roster. She was the team leader last season averaging 10.1 points and seven rebounds per game. She finished fourth in the OVC with 43 blocks her junior year.

Junior guard Grace Lennox figures to be another key returner this season. The point guard had 130 assists last season and finished fourth in the conference with 4.6 assists per game. Sophomore forward Halle Stull and junior forward Jalisha Smith also return for the Panthers. Stull started in 20 games as a freshman last season.

The Panthers signed four incoming freshman for this year, two players earned All-State honors in their senior seasons and another led her team to a state championship. Danielle Berry, forward Jennifer Nehls, guard/forwardAllison Van Dyke and forward Zharia Lenoir are the new faces to the team.

Berry earned All-State honors, averaging 15 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.7 steals as senior while leading her team to a fourth place finish in the Missouri 5A State Tournament. The guard made 68 3-pointers in her senior season, which was the top 15 in the St. Louis Metro Area.

Nehls was first team All-Conference averaging 12.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and one block per game. The forward was named second team All-Area. Van Dyke earned All-State honors in Indiana her senior season as she averaged 13.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and two assists per game. The guard led her team to its first conference title.

Lenoir is a forward who was the last to sign with the team in the April signing period. She led her team to an Ohio Division III State Championship her senior season averaging 18.3 points per game in the playoffs.

Eastern has 13 non-conference games before they start OVC play on Dec. 29 against the Belmont Bruins. The season starts Friday with the Panthers hosting Milikin University at Lantz Arena. Eastern will only play five of those 13 non-conference games at home.

Belmont University is the favorite to win the OVC after advancing to the NCAA Tournament last year as the No. 2 seed in the OVC. Last years regular season champion Tennessee-Martin is predicted to finish second followed by Eastern Kentucky, SIU Edwardsville and a tie between Murray State and Southeast Missouri.

Eastern Kentucky’s Jalen O’Bannon was picked as the preseason OVC Player of the Year after earning First Team and All-Newcomer honors last season. She had 14 double-doubles along with 9.8 rebounds per game.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]