10th-ranked Laker women set to open season Friday in Lady Bulldog Classic
MORROW, GA – Over the last two years, no women's basketball team at the NCAA Division II level has a better record than the Clayton State Lakers, and on Friday, the program will take its first step in 2012-13 to maintain its excellence.
With a 64-5 record over the last two years, winning a Peach Belt Conference championship in 2011-12 and a National Championship in 2010-11, Clayton State will open the season Friday and Saturday in the Union University Lady Bulldog Classic in Jackson, TN.
Expectations are high once again for the Lakers, as the squad enters the season ranked 10th in the nation in the USA Today Sports/ESPN Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll and was picked along with USC Aiken to finish atop the 2012-13 Peach Belt standings by league coaches.
"We're excited about the potential of this team," said head coach Dennis Cox, entering his ninth season as one of the winningest coaches at the NCAA Division II level. "We have a lot of new players added to the mix, and it may take some time before we are clicking on all cylinders, but we are a hard-working group, so I like the possibilities."
In Friday and Saturday's tournament games, Clayton State will have its hands full, facing two of the toughest teams that NCAA Division II and the NAIA has to offer. The Lakers will play perennial Division II women's basketball powerhouse Delta State on Friday followed by facing the host Union, who has captured multiple NAIA National Championships over the last few years the next day.
"We have an extremely tough month of November that will tell us right away where we are and where we need to be before we open play in the Peach Belt in December," said Cox. "
After winning the national championship in 2011, the Lakers returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 for the eighth straight time, reaching the round of 32. The squad's PBC conference title was the program's fifth in the last eight years.
Seven players return from last year's team that went 29-4 overall and 16-1 in the conference. Four seniors highlight the roster, including guards Keona Dixon and Drameka Griggs, forward Kayla Mobley and center Shannon Smith.
An All-Peach Belt Conference selection last year and a preseason All-PBC pick this year, Griggs returns for her third year in the Clayton State program. A lightning quick guard, she was the team's second-leading scorer last year, averaging 11 points per game. She also was second on the team in steals with 80 and third in assists with 73.
Griggs, a 5-foot-5 guard, had 17 double-digit scoring games last year with her top performance, coming against Wingate, where she poured in 28 points, hitting 10-of-15 shots from the field.
Dixon played in 31 games for the Lakers, averaging nine points per contest. She finished with 52 steals and 56 assist, both ranking fourth on last year's squad. Dixon, 5-foot-7 guard, had 17 double-digit scoring games with her best game coming last year against Lander. She scored 18 points in the win over the Bearcats.
In her third year in the Laker program, Mobley returns to the starting line-up from her forward position, where she started 31 games last year. She averaged seven points per game, hitting 49 percent from the field and was the team's leading rebounder at seven boards per contest. She also finished with 51 steals, ranking fifth best on the team.
Mobley, a 5-foot-11 center, finished with nine double-digit scoring games and scored a season-best 22 points against Montevallo, hitting 10-of-11 shots from the field.
Smith also returns for her senior year after playing in 32 games last year, averaging five points per game. She averaged four rebounds per game and was third on the team with 38 blocks. Smith, a 6-foot-2 center, finished with six double-digit scoring games last year, including a 14-point effort at North Georgia, where she drained 6-of-9 shots from the field.
Also at the center position, Jackson is back after averaging seven points a contest, hitting 49 percent from the field and averaging five rebounds. She ranked second on the squad in blocks with 51 and picked up 40 steals. Jackson, a 6-foot-1 center, recorded three "double-doubles" last year, including a 10 point, 17 rebound effort against Barton and a 15 point, 10 rebound game at Flagler. She finished 12 double-digit scoring games on the season.
Covington, a 5-10 forward, returns after playing in 29 games last year as a freshman. Her top game came at North Georgia when she scored eight points, hitting 4-of-6 shots. Clanton, a 5-8 guard, saw action in 11 games and had six points against Chowan.
The Lakers have five newcomers joining this year's team. At the guard position, junior Arkia Armstrong, junior Bena Hanyard and freshman Kayla Pryce will join the mix. Forward Shakira Allen joins the club as a freshman and center Auburn Randolph enters the program as a junior.
Armstrong, a 5-foot-5 guard, played last year at Wallace State College, where she averaged 10 points per game and helped her team to a 15-9 record. Hanyard, a 5-foot-7 guard, transferred to the Lakers from Valdosta State, after averaging six points per contest. She was part of the Blazers' 22-8 NCAA Division II "Sweet Sixteen" squad last year. She scored 20 points in a game last year against Barry and 19 points against UA Huntsville.
Randolph, a 5-foot-9 center, played on Darton College's 20-8 team last year, averaging five points and five rebounds per contest. A 5-foot-6 guard, Pryce played last year at Melbourne High School in Florida, while Allen, a 5-foot-10 forward played at Erwin High School in Asheville, NC.
Clayton State's home schedule will begin on Saturday, December 1st, hosting the Loch Shop Classic. The Classic will feature Clayton State, league opponent North Georgia, regional opponent Lenoir-Rhyne and Chowan. Clayton State will play Chowan and Lenoir-Rhyne in the two-day event.