BY BROOKS HOLTON – SPORTS EDITOR
Ask anyone around the Centre Women’s Basketball program, and they’ll tell you that an 8-19 season falls short of expectations. With the second-toughest strength of schedule in the South region, the team was challenged on a nightly basis during the 2016 campaign by some of the best competition the sport had to offer. Rather than give in to the adversity, though, the Colonels emerged from the fire as a more cohesive unit, and proved it when the stakes were at their highest.
“This was definitely a learning year for our young team,” head coach Wendie Austin-Robinson said. “We had six juniors and seniors, but depended on many freshmen and sophomores to help our upperclassmen. With such a young mix it took our team some time to learn each other on the court. The ladies did a great job working throughout the year and striving to get better every day, and in the end it paid off for them winning 3 of our last 4 games.”
The last of those three wins—a 56-54 upset of third-seeded Hendrix College in the first round of the SAA Tournament—served both as a reflection of everything that went right for the team in 2016 and the foundation for future development. Senior guard and first-team All-SAA selection Alexis Guy led the team with a career-high 32 points and eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in her four years with the program to secure the win and advance to the next round of postseason play. Guy led the Colonels in scoring in 2016, averaging 14.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
“I have worked hard since freshman year, and I was happy to see some of my hard work pay off,” Guy said. “I felt like I had some big shoes to fill once certain people graduated, so I did everything I could for this team. Plus, I have always had good teammates supporting me, which made the achievements attainable.”
Those teammates at her side through it all, seniors Kaitlyn McKnight and Bonnie Rhule also provided major contributions to the team both on and off the court.
“[Rhule] was one of the best defenders in our league,” Coach Austin-Robinson said. “She hit big shots for us, especially towards the end of the year when we needed her too the most. [McKnight] led our post group. She definitely had her best year as a senior and was a great leader for us off the court. As a coach the greatest joy is watching the young women you coach grow over 4 years. All of the 2016 class will be missed.“
Along with the contributions from the upperclassmen, freshmen Katie Moore and Abigail Stewart stepped up in their first year of collegiate action. Moore was the leading scorer on the team before an injury cut her season short, while Stewart averaged 6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in the post. Guy also mentioned sophomore guard Paige Kellam as someone who made great strides in 2016.
“Her and I could read each other pretty well out there,” Guy said. “She made some big plays throughout the season.”
With the focus moving to developing the young talent for 2017, Coach Austin-Robinson has high hopes for what her team can do entering a pivotal offseason.
“We were so proud of our team’s fight and determination especially going into the tournament,” Coach Austin-Robinson said. “No one was happy with our record, but we saw benefits of working hard and persevering through a tough season. Our young returning team now understands that basketball is a long season understands what it takes to be successful. We definitely need to work hard over the summer and improve our skill level. We will have many people who can step up and contribute next year.”