Photo by Bruce Jacobsen
LANCASTER – The Marauder women's basketball team definitely exceeded expectations last season after sharing a piece of the Western State Conference championship with LA Valley College.
This season AVC returns six players from last season's conference championship team, including leading scorer, Deja Smith. Last season Smith filled up the stat sheets by averaging 13.5 points per game, six rebounds, 2.5 assists and two steals. She did much of everything for the Marauders, including ranking second on the team in rebounds behind departed Katilin Stephenson.
"I think we have a huge possibility to win conference again. I think this team has a lot of potential," said Smith. "We're going to come out really fast this season and compete. We have some newcomers and nervousness should set in, but we will settle down. All we have to do is go out and execute and we'll be fine."
Joining Smith is returner Brieanna Perkins, who was named to the All-Conference team last season. The sharpshooter, who averaged nine points per game, connected on 70 3-pointers, which was second on the team behind Makaela Manson, who finished with 72. Perkins, finished with a team-high 29 percent from behind the arc. Smith was third on the team by connecting on 35 3-pointers.
"With Deja (Smith) coming back and Fionna (Ferry) probably starting at the point, we can move deja to the two and she can focus on scoring and defense," AVC head coach Barry Green said. "Our depth right now is not where I'd like it to be. But if we stay healthy I think we'll be better than last year."
Scary thought, especially since Shantanel Bivens returns this season after taking a year off to focus on school. Following the 2016 season, Bivens was named All-Conference and she's good for a double-double nearly every time she steps on the court.
"I'm really excited for this season. Hopefully we can hang another banner in our gym. I just want to help the team all that I can," Bivens said. "I think we're a really strong team. I think we have as good a chance as any other team (in conference) to win. It feels so good to get back on the court. I'm just trying to improve every day."
Bivens will get help in the post from freshman Aniyah Terry. The 5-11 Terry averaged eight points and 10 rebounds per game last season for Palmdale-Knight High School. Terry is a perfect complement to Bivens as she is athletic and will run the floor, much like Green wants to.
"This year I think we're going to have much better post play with (Bivens and Terry)," Green said. "I think that was a piece we were missing last year. We just have to keep things simple. At this point you're ready to play and see what the girls can do. There's only so much you can do until you start playing. I think we've taken care of some of the issues that we can improve on."
Still the Marauders are going to need much more production from its bench than it got last season. Of the 55 points that AVC averaged last season, only seven came from its bench and 48 for the starters.
Jailesha Shellmire, Nuvia Ramos-Zuniga, Mystar Golden and Janice Thomas all return for the Marauders' bench. They will be relied upon to play much needed minutes and provide scoring off the bench. Nicole Pullum could also provide additional size underneath to help Bivens and Terry.
Ferry will start at point guard for AVC. Last season at Tehachapi High School she averaged 14.6 points per game, five rebounds, five assists and 8.5 steals per game. Ferry and Smith will be a solid back court. Ramos-Zuniga will give the Marauders an additional defensive presence.
AVC opens its season on Friday at the Bakersfield Tournament when it faces Riverside College. Tipoff is at 5pm.