2017-18 Women’s Basketball Media Guide
Transition is a constant in an ever changing world. From month to month, season to season, one can notice the changing of leaves in the fall, snowflakes in the winter, blooming of flowers in the spring and the summer rays which warm to the core. While the environment shows physical change, the University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team has gone through an offseason of transition in hopes of returning to its roots while paving a clear path to the future on the horizon.
The Skyhawks enter the 2017-18 campaign hoping that a change in the seasons was just what the program needed to get back to its level of expectation which fans and onlooker have come to expect throughout a stretch of six seasons which saw unprecedented success. After a string of six consecutive postseason appearances – which included four NCAA Tournament and back-to-back Women’s NIT berths – UT Martin struggled in 2016-17 to post just a 12-19 overall record while possessing an 8-8 record in Ohio Valley Conference play.
While some of the season’s struggles could be pointed to one of the youngest rosters in the country and significant injuries, it was a diversion from the UT Martin blueprint which proved costly for the program from the ground up. While the season saw the emergence of three All-OVC performers, the Skyhawks are hoping to get back to the program’s roots in order to return the squad back to league prominence. While the season just didn’t fit those of the past during the Kevin McMillan era, the Skyhawks aren’t looking to completely forget a “lost” season.
“You don’t want to forget it, because you don’t want to repeat it,” said McMillan. “You want to forget it from a stance of the fact that it doesn’t fit with the other years. It all comes back to our culture, values, who we are and what we stand for. The team is first and we do whatever we have to do in order to help our team. Last year we didn’t live up to that standard and I take that responsibility. That’s why we have made so many changes this offseason.”
“We have literally changed everything,” said McMillan. “We have tried working on our culture, fundamentals and character. We have had to redefine what things mean to us. What word definition goes with what word. What does hardwork, discipline and relentless mean? We wanted to make sure that we are all on the same page and I don’t think we were last season. When you add that we have new uniforms, new practice gear, everything… It’s almost like we are starting over.”
While the Skyhawks are still a long way away from scrapping everything and starting over a program which has won 101-of-132 conference games since 2009, a concerted effort has been made to not only define what the program’s foundation is but verbalize it in order to better recognize its importance in every facet of the team.
“We want to build ourselves off a foundation of our roots,” said McMillan. “Character is everything. Team is first. I’m willing to do whatever. We don’t make excuses. We don’t whine. We just line up and go to work in everything we do whether it be in our family, the community or classroom. We just want to be our best. Those are our values which our foundation must be built upon. We don’t need to compare ourselves to anyone else, we just want to focus on being the best we can be and everything else will take care of itself.”
“It has been a big offseason,” said McMillan. “In normal situations I would say that it is going to take five years to establish your program but I don’t think it will take that long for us to re-establish our program. They don’t have to buy into the fact that we can be successful if they listen, these kids believe in what we are saying and can just look into the rafters to see our banner to know where our program has been and can go again. I don’t know how fast we can reach that success, we know it isn’t an overnight process, but we are getting closer as they grow and mature as the season goes along.”
While the program is looking for its core values to serve as building blocks to a strong foundation, the Skyhawks will look to a balanced roster to jump start a retooling effort. As a team, UT Martin returns all five of the team’s top scorers from a season ago - along with the return of one additional sophomore - while welcoming seven newcomers into the fold. Spearheading a revitalization effort is the return of three Preseason All-OVC honorees in Kendall Spray, Myah Taylor and Ashton Feldhaus who each garnered All-OVC second team honors a season ago.
Spray returns for her sophomore campaign after becoming the program’s third OVC Freshman of Year award winner after leading the Skyhawks with 12.5 points per game – ranking as the league’s highest scoring freshman. The sharpshooter wasted little time bursting onto the scene, ranking as one of the nation’s top three-point shooting threats after ranking in the top-30 nationally in both three-point field goals made and three-point field goals per game en route to breaking the program’s single-season three-point record with 89.
Following a freshman campaign which saw the Dyersburg native earn All-Newcomer honors, Taylor took the next step in her development as a sophomore with All-OVC accolades after averaging 12.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game to serve as the team’s primary sixth-man down the stretch despite starting in 13 games on the season. Taylor would tally 20 games in double figures while eclipsing the 20-point plateau against Southern Illinois, Jacksonville State and Austin Peay.
Wrapping up Preseason All-OVC honors is Feldhaus, a senior wing with a wealth of basketball pedigree, who averaged 11.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while notching six OVC Newcomer of the Week honors. Feldhaus would prove to be a major contributor for the Skyhawks down the stretch as they won 9 of their final 11 regular season contests by averaging 18.1 points per game during the span.
Joining the quartet in postseason honors was the play of Janekia Mason who returns for her senior campaign after posting a breakout performance in the OVC Basketball Championship en route to All-Tournament team honors. Mason played in all 31 games while notching 25 starts, averaging 9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds out of the low post. Arguably her best game of the season came in the OVC Championship semifinals against top-seeded Belmont where she tallied 23 points and a season-high 15 rebounds.
Junior guard Emanye Robertson rounds out the quartet of returning starters for the Skyhawks after averaging 10.4 points, 4.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game at the point guard position. Robertson took her game to another level in her sophomore season, scoring in double figures on 13 difference occasions while notching career highs with 23 points against Vanderbilt and Murray State. She also ranked fourth in the OVC in both steals per game and assists per game.
Sophomore post Breanna Boggs marks the Skyhawks final returner as she looks to build on her freshman campaign which saw her play in all 31 games while earning four starts. Despite averaging 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, Boggs showed her potential with an impressive showing against Southern Illinois in which she tallied 17 points and seven rebounds.
With a solid nucleus of performers at the forefront, UT Martin welcomes the addition of seven newcomers into the fold in sophomore Tamiah Stanford and the freshman group of Demi Burdick, Damiah Griffin, Zaire Hicks, Chelsey Perry, Paige Pipkin and Maddie Waldrop. The quartet of Burdick, Hicks, Perry and Waldrop are all expected to make an immediate impact while Stanford, Griffin and Pipkin are likely to miss the 2017-18 season due to injury.
While the schedule won’t be easy for the Skyhawks, the team will have the luxury of more home games than in seasons past. A total of 14 home games highlight a loaded schedule which features teams from 10 different conferences – including seven teams which qualified for postseason play in 2016-17 – along with a trio of first-time opponents. Also included in this year’s schedule is an expanded 18-game OVC docket, replacing the 16-game format used since 2011-12.
“I like how our schedule has come together,” said McMillan. “I think last year we had so many road games and that contributed to wearing us down and out. We always try to split having half of our games at home and half on the road. This year we are really close to that when you consider that there are five home, five away and two neutral non-conference games. We really like the balance.”
“With the 18-game schedule it does stretch it out a little longer with games around Christmas and New Years,” said McMillan. “As far as competitiveness though, the league is tough as it always is with so many players returning to their squads. You even saw it with the preseason All-OVC teams. I think this could be the best year on paper for our league.”
With the combination of a difficult schedule and a season of transition, UT Martin is hoping the team’s values and re-established foundation will lead to continued success.
“These kids are already making statements that it took other players three years to say,” said McMillan. “Kids come in and have certain levels of character and an understanding of what we are about. These kids already have a pretty good idea where they are coming in, saying and doing things that the past couple of seasons we haven’t even had verbalized. If you think of it this way, our program is cooking in a crockpot, not a microwave. We have to give it time to cook. Hopefully we are talking weeks and months, not years. Until then we are going to go to work. We are going to be tough, get on the floor and make life tough for you. We are going to get back to our roots.”
UT Martin will officially put its offseason preparation to work with an exhibition contest against Lindsey Wilson College on Monday, Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m. before opening the regular season at Southern Illinois on Friday, Nov. 10.
For information on season ticket packages and single-game tickets, contact Skyhawk ticket operations manager Fran Spears at (731) 881-7207.