Mark Isenhour

Women’s basketball a mighty force

With LaGrange College’s first and second all-time leading scorers Katie Covington and Heather Miller leading the way on the Panthers women’s basketball team, Head Coach Mark Isenhour says his student-athletes are poised to be a powerful force in the USA South Athletic Conference.

His players have been solidly competing in the Great South Athletic Conference until they joined USA South, headed by powerhouses Christopher Newport University, Ferrum College and Greensboro College. Coaches’ season pre-rankings have placed LaGrange College as rounding out the top four in USA South. The Panthers will attempt to defend their regular-season and tournament titles from a year ago.

“If we hadn’t switched leagues and had remained in the GSAC, Katie and Heather would have finished their careers No. 1 and No. 2 in the whole conference in scoring,” Coach Isenhour says. “I think both those players are primed and ready for a breakout senior year.”

The two seniors have been GSAC All-Conference selections for three straight years.

“There’s no question that moving to a new conference where you’re less familiar with your opponents is going to be a challenge, as well as the longer travel involved, which is my biggest consideration,” he says. “But I think I will rest assured that I have two really strong players in my court that will allow us to start the season feeling like we’ve been here before. Last season we won big games on the road.”

LaGrange’s regular formidable competitors, Maryville and Piedmont colleges, also have joined USA South for the 2012-13 season. USA South coaches have placed Ferrum first in preseason rankings, followed by Maryville. Christopher Newport, LaGrange, Greensboro and Methodist University round out the top six.

The Panthers were 19-9 last season and runners-up in the Great South Athletic Conference Championship Tournament.

“It was a season in which we broke and shattered many school records from scoring offense to defensive field goal percentage,” Coach Isenhour says. “A strong nucleus of those players has returned this season. When I arrived on campus, these seniors were the kind of freshmen who helped us raise our profile in the South region.”

LaGrange topped Birmingham-Southern 70-58 for its season-opening win in October but was then handed a loss of 85-71 by No. 22 nationally ranked Emory University in November. Berry College beat the Panthers in overtime 103-99 on Nov. 24, but LaGrange came back the next day to down Oglethorpe University 100-82.

In the Oglethorpe game, Covington had 20 points to pass Jessica Brown’s school record of 1,263 points. She now has 1,264 points in her career. Covington broke the record with a pair of free throws with 1:28 remaining. She was 11-for-11 at the free throw line in the game. The Panthers had a school record of 40 3-point attempts in the game. They hit 17 in the game, the second most in the program’s history.

The Panthers went on the road this past weekend for their first two USA South games on the season, losing to unbeaten Christopher Newport 78-70 on Saturday and to North Carolina Wesleyan 82-78. They are now 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the USA South.

Covington and Miller are joined by two other strong senior players, Kiah Britton and transfer Angelica Wilcox.

“Angelica came in last year from a Division II institution, and she played a little differently than our system called for,” Coach Isenhour says. “But as I got comfortable with her skill set, I was really able to ‘take the handcuffs off her,’ and I really saw her do some special things with the defensive end of the ball. I think she’s someone who will be a catalyst for the defensive end for us this year.”

Kiah Britton is another outstanding senior, he says.

“Kiah’s a four-year player for us, and she understands the system, she understands her role,” he says. “She’s going to come committed every day to being a great vocal leader for us both on and off the court.”

Coach Isenhour says he and his team are looking to improve its overall commitment to consistency this season.

“We have talented players all around, and sometimes last season we really peaked on all cyclinders, but I don’t know that there was a consistency to our commitment to chemistry,” he says. “It’s obviously not something you drill or have a magic formula for; it’s just something you have to attack each and every day. I think we’ve made huge strides on that end.

The college community will see a new face on the court with the addition of new Assistant Coach Valerie Jones, who just finished her playing career at the University of West Georgia. Coach Isenhour is also excited about the return of Assistant Coach Ashley DeFrietas.

“Valerie has been dynamic from the start; I’ve enjoyed what she’s brought to us,” he says. “It’s a different element. I couldn’t be more excited to have Ashley back. She was a sophomore player when I took over, and she’s been on the staff for three years. Her understanding of people, our program, and maybe more importantly, my system, is second to none.  We’re poised and ready for our staff to have a really strong year to put our players in the right position to be as successful as possible.”

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