By Chris Whitaker
The Americus Times-Recorder
AMERICUS - A couple of baskets or breaks here and there, and the Georgia Southwestern women's basketball team could possibly have been at .500 in conference play last season.
The Lady Hurricanes dropped seven games in conference by seven points or less in finishing 3-17 and 8-19 overall.
The preseason coaches poll was released Thursday with GSW picked to come in 10th overall, ahead of Montevallo, Augusta State and Flagler. The Lady Hurricanes even received one vote for fourth place.
Four teams received first-place votes with Clayton State taking seven of them to finish on top of the conference. Francis Marion was picked second and Lander third while reigning conference player of the year Phebe Smith and Columbus State were tied for fourth with Georgia College.
"This conference is so hard to predict," said coach Kelly Britsky. "I do believe that Clayton State is a preseason favorite, but by March there is no telling who will be in the running. I figured they would place us about where they did since there is so many unknowns with the new additions to the conference. I hope that we will place a little higher than that this year."
GSW brings in nine new faces headlined by D-I transfers LaTonyah Bentley (Eastern Kentucky) and Jessica Bivins (Stetson). It also had four junior college transfers and three freshmen.
"We are very excited about the upcoming season," said Britsky. "We will return most of our starting team from last year and are excited about our newcomers. Our freshmen are coming on fast, and our transfers will add depth immediately."
The Lady Hurricanes return four players who started at least 23 games last season, including Brandi Burris (11.2 pts) and Brittany Reynolds (10.9 pts, 7.1 reb).
Britsky hopes the experience her returners gained last season will help GSW win the close games this season.
"Last year was full of heartbreaking losses where we had the last shot for the win or were so close that you got into the whole foul late in the game situation," said Britsky. "Some of those losses were much closer going down the stretch. I believe lack of experience hurt us in some of those situations, and unfortunately in more than one, we just missed that last-second shot. I hope this year we will be up in those games instead of behind."
The conference has been split into East and West divisions this year. GSW is in the West and will be joined by Montevallo, Columbus State, GCSU, Clayton State and North Georgia. Augusta State, USC-Aiken, Lander, Flagler, Armstrong Atlantic, Francis Marion and UNC-Pembroke will be in the East.
With three of the top five teams in the East, Britsky said they have to play better at home.
"We have to win at home to be successful," she said. "There is not a single game in the conference that will be easy for anyone. The difference in Peach Belt games is so small almost every night for all the teams. No one will run away with the trophy. We have to be good at home and steal some games from people on the road."
The top four teams from each division will advance to the conference tournament. The first round will be at the higher seed's site with the semifinals and championship being held at Aiken.
GSW opens the season Nov. 16 at home against Albany State.