The Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team enters the season as the defending Mid-American Conference champions, on the heels of a 23-9 record (13-3 MAC West) as well as the West Division title. They lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to the University of South Carolina by a score of 80-48.
The Eagles are beginning the season with a new head coach: Tory Verdi comes to Ypsilanti after spending the last two years as an assistant coach for the University of Kansas’ Jayhawks. The Jayhawks lost in the Sweet Sixteen last year to the University of Tennessee.
The Eagles were picked to finish third in the MAC West in an Oct. 31 poll released by the MAC. In addition, junior guard/forward Natachia Watkins was named to the preseason All-MAC Team for the West Division. Coach Verdi was very clear about his goals for the team this year.
“My goal is to compete for the West and the MAC Championship,” Verdi said in a teleconference Oct. 31.
Watkins and redshirt senior guard Miranda Tate are confident in having a new coach, despite making it to the NCAA tournament under previous head coach AnnMarie Gilbert.
“At first it was a bit overwhelming,” Watkins said. “Especially with everything going on in my life at the time. But after a while I could do nothing but accept it. Being an athlete, you have to be able to adjust to new coaches and changes. Things happen for a reason and when we heard about the situation it brought us closer together and we told ourselves that we weren’t going to let this be a setback … we will continue to fight and get back to the NCAA tourney again.”
Tate said, “It’s an adjustment, but we’ve inherited a great coach and he has same goals as us to build off of last year and to be better than last year and never be content, which makes change so much easier.”
Watkins said she wants to hit the ground running this year.
“My own personal goals would be to become as unstoppable as possible, meaning that I want to be as much as a threat without the ball as I am with the ball. To be able to take people off the dribble or raise up and shoot the jump shot. And when people sag off of me pop a three,” she said.
Watkins also has a great deal of confidence in the rest of the team.
“Other than myself, I see Miranda Tate playing a major factor this season as well as India Hairston and Chelsea Hite. Miranda will help us out a lot with scoring. I see her as our secret weapon, especially since our whole conference knows nothing about her. She is a very versatile, lengthy player who can take people off the dribble, raise up and shoot the short jay and she also has a nice three-point shot as well,” Watkins said.
Watkins added, “India and Chelsea will help out with the absence of Paige [Redditt]. India has a lot more experience than Chelsea but both of these girls are solid players who respond well to what is needed in game play. Amber Bogard also will play a major factor because she is a very thick solid kid who will get in there, grab boards, block shots and has nice post moves to finish under the basket.”
Tate said there are two teams that should provide the Eagles with some solid competition in 2012.
“I think Toledo and [Central Michigan University should be tough competition this year, so they should be pretty good games,” she said.
The Eagles started off their exhibition slate Nov. 2 at the Convocation Center against the Madonna University Crusaders. They won by a score of 75-64. They have one more exhibition game at home on Nov. 6 against Wayne State University before they start the regular season Nov. 11 against Northeastern University.
The game against Northeastern is a home game at the Convocation Center. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.