A tough first half sent the Bucs walking into the locker room at halftime trailing 35-19 to the Chattanooga Mocs.
In a Southern Conference Women’s Basketball Championship game, the Bucs had to remember how far they’d come, so they picked themselves up and went on a 15-0 run to bring the game within three points and eventually bring them into overtime. But it looked like the power it took to get ETSU back in the game was all the power the team had in reserve. The Mocs went on a 7-0 run in overtime, bringing them to a 61-56 win over ETSU … but that was last year.
Both teams will meet again on Jan. 30 in Freedom Hall, and this time, the Bucs are out for blood.
“Last year’s team was really post-oriented,” said ETSU women’s coach Brittney Ezell. “We had focus with the three senior post players. … This year we’re very guard heavy, and we’re much more youthful. We have a lot of young kids that we count on, and sometimes they don’t know any better. The only thing they know how to do is play hard.”
The three senior post players from last year, Serena Clark (Stone Mountain, Ga.), Maria Bond (Macon, Ga.) and Destiny Mitchell (Bluffton, Ga.) all combined for 45.2 percent of their team’s points per game in the 2014-2015 season.
Ezell said that the team still competes at a high level, but the makeup of the group is different from last season, featuring a younger team and a different set of players in the backcourt.
“Sometimes ignorance is bliss,” Ezell said. “We’ve got a fantastic backcourt with Chandler Christopher (Greeneville, Tenn.), Tianna Tarter (Johnson City, Tenn.) and Shamauria Bridges (Miramar, Fla.) and we rely heavily on them. They’ve been the vocal leaders as well as the ‘lead by examples’ kids on the team.”
All three Bucs demonstrated improvements over their performance last season. Bridges boosted the average number of points she scored per game from 12 to 18, Christopher from 7.5 to 8.6 and Tarter from 11.8 to 18.8. Christopher also increased the number of assists she performed, going from 2.5 last season to 4 this season.
“Because our former post players graduated last year, we’re bringing in new post players that are either freshman or transfers who didn’t have as much experience last year,” Christopher said. “We have focus on our guards. Chatt is more post dominate and their best guard is out for the season so I think they’re going to have a hard time guarding us and we will be easier to defend them and score on them at will because our backcourt is so dominant as oppose to our post.”
Despite this being only the second year the teams have played each other, the rivalry has been one to remember, and this weekend’s game has many fans waiting in anticipation.
“Last year’s finals rekindled the rivalry,” Ezell said. “But I’ll be honest, you can’t really say it’s a rivalry until you beat them. Right now they’ve been the dominate force in the league … We need to put a W on the board in order to really consider it a rivalry. … Until then, they still remain the gold standard in the conference.”