Bearcats Looking To Take The Momentum Into The Playoff Run
By Andrew Reardon
The Lander women’s basketball team came in to the 2017-18 basketball season with lofty expectations. The Bearcats lost only one player from last year’s squad that reached their 3rd straight NCAA tournament and added key transfers Chelsea Mitchell (Morgan St.), Ariana Sanders (Truett-McConnell), and Christal Williams (Palm Beach State). Lander was ranked preseason 1st in the conference and were playing like it early on in this season. The Bearcats won 12 of their first 14 games, with one of the losses coming to #5 ranked Carson Newman by three. But in a close game on the road, the momentum that the ‘Cats had built came to an abrupt halt. Reigning defensive player of the year, preseason all-conference, and team leader Senior Mylea McKenith suffered a season-ending knee injury.
It’s halftime in Finis Horne Arena, and the Bearcats are losing by one to Augusta University, the last place team in the PBC. The players and coaches knew something had to be done. Head Coach Kevin Pederson declined to comment on what was said in that locker room, but the Bearcats came back. They demolished the Jaguars in the 2nd half by 51 points and haven’t looked back since that point, winning eight straight. Before the Augusta game, Lander had dropped to 4th place in the PBC and was on the cusp of being 4 games back of first place. Now, the Bearcats are in the hunt to win their 4th conference title in a row and help build their resume going into the playoffs.
During an interview, key player Chelsea Mitchell said, “after Mylea went down with her injury, we were all a little shocked, but we had to rally as a team and really buy into what the coaching staff wants us to do. Everyone is playing with a lot of effort, intensity and doing the little things to win.” During the eight-game winning streak, the Bearcats are defeating their conference opponents at an average of more than 25 points. Leading the team is Senior Breshay Johnson and Junior Chelsea Mitchell, both earning PBC player of the week honors multiple times and averaging over 15 points per game.
Team manager, William Cantrell states, “Mitchell has definitely stepped into more of a leader role since Mylea went down. She has always brought max effort and tenacity on the court like the coaches want, but now she has been more vocal and a leader off the court with her teammates. She and Breshay really keep this team rolling, making sure to take what the coaches have taught them and help the other players.”
After the conference tournament quarterfinals, the highest ranked seed hosts the rest of the tournament (semis and finals). Last year, the Bearcats qualified to host the remaining games and are hoping to have a repeat for this year.
While discussing tournament predictions, Assistant Athletic Director Rixon Lane, mentioned the potential of Lander’s team to go far in the tournament. Rixon said, “I love the athleticism of this team, the way they can go on a 10, 15-point streak at any time. This team is scary because players like Jessica Harris and Ariana Sanders are stepping up at the right time, while Chelsea and Breshay Johnson are continuing their strong seasons. This team has a lot of in game experience and have been through the rigors of a college basketball season while contributing, so there are no situations on the court they have not seen and it will pay off in crunch time.”
Through adversity, Lander Women’s team has managed to rebuild and bounce back at an optimum time for conference tournament. Support from both the court and sidelines, each player has bought in to Coach Pederson’s vision. The Bearcats look to finish strong in conference, in hopes of being selected to compete in the NCAA for the fourth straight year in a row. Anxious to begin, the team continues to train for the PBC championship, weekend of March 2nd through the 4th, and the NCAA tournament, starting the following weekend.