EDWARDSVILLE — SIUE women’s basketball Head Coach Paula Buscher starts her third season on the sidelines for the Cougars, and she is excited about the Cougars’ prospects for the upcoming season.
“I think we are more athletic than we have been in the past. We have the ability to shoot better from the perimeter — the three-ball particularly,” Buscher said.
The Cougars are coming off their second straight appearance in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and have a good mix of veterans and newcomers for this season’s roster.
The top three scorers from last season return to the court. Senior guard Tierny Austin (Rockford, Ill.) averaged a team-leading 13.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season. CoCo Moore (Indianapolis) averaged 11.5 points per game and was second on the team in assists with 61. Micah Jones (Cowden, Ill.) was a member of the OVC All-Newcomer team as a freshman last season after recording 10.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a contest.
“As important as it is having the top three scorers back, they also are coming back healthy,” Buscher said. Austin missed six games last season with injuries, and Moore is battling back from off-season injuries.
Jones and guard Alexis Chappelle (St. Louis), both sophomores this season, are the only two returning players who competed in all 30 games for the Cougars last season. Chappelle was the team’s leader in assists with 71. Buscher will look to turn that experience into a strength this season.
Allyssa Decker (Moline, Ill.) returns for her senior season after leading the team in field goal percentage last season at .508.
“She has fought through too many injuries through her career. She brings a team-first mentality and such great basketball IQ to the court. She helps the younger players know what to do,” Buscher said.
Buscher said it’s great to have two seniors — Decker and Austin — who provide the type of leadership needed to be successful.
“We have two really good seniors who put the team ahead of themselves,” she added.
Raven Warford (Chicago) has continued to progress in her collegiate career. The 6-foot, 5-inch center appeared in 27 games last season and was a defensive threat every time she was on the floor with 1.3 blocks per game.
The Cougars welcome redshirt junior Shronda Butts (Des Moines, Iowa) to the lineup this season. She sat out last season after transferring from Bradley University. She was averaging 12.1 points and 3.6 assists per contest her final season with the Braves.
Erin Kelley (Pontiac, Ill.) will have two years of eligibility with the Cougars after playing two seasons at Parkland Community College in Champaign. The 5-8 guard was a first team All-Conference pick last season for Parkland and is the school record holder at Pontiac High School for career three-pointers made.
“They (Butts and Kelley) are already seasoned veterans in my mind,” Buscher said. “This is not their first go around in college athletics, and they are further advanced than our freshman class.”
Three freshmen also join the Cougars. Donshel Beck (St. Louis), Sidney Smith (Carterville, Ill.), and Gwen Adams (Ferguson, Mo.) look to make an immediate impact.
Beck, a 5-9 guard, scored a career record 1,547 points at Ritenour High School and was the Player of the Year in the Suburban North Conference her senior season.
Smith, a 5-8 guard, recorded 130 three-pointers last season, the fourth most in Illinois high school history, and was a second team All-State pick at Carterville High School.
Adams, a 5-11 forward/center, has proven she’s a winner with back-to-back state titles at Incarnate Word Academy. Her team was 62-1 over the last two seasons, and she was nominated to play in the 2014 McDonald’s High School All-American game.
“I love our freshman class. They are very competitive, very energetic and a lot of fun,” Buscher said.
Lauren White, of Edwardsville, also is on the roster but will sit out the season due to Division I transfer rules. She spent last season at Northern Kentucky.