GREENEVILLE—The Tusculum University women's basketball team is set to open its 2019-20 season this weekend in the South Atlantic Conference/Conference Carolinas Challenge, hosted by King University.
The Pioneers will play Belmont Abbey in their season opener on Friday at 8 p.m., followed by a matchup with the host Tornado on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Bristol.
Head coach Devan Carter welcomes back 10 players from last year's roster, including three starters who took medical redshirts a year ago. Eight newcomers round out a squad that is coming off its first 20-win season since 2010-11. The Pioneers went 20-9 last year and tied for fifth in the final SAC standings with an 8-8 record.
Last year's team led the SAC in scoring defense (55.2 ppg), steals per game (13.4), three-point field goal percentage defense (26.0 percent), turnovers forced per game (23.38), and turnover margin (+8.41 per game). Individually, Mia Long was the Division II statistical champion in steals per game with 3.96 and ranked fifth overall nationally with 107 steals.
Long was named preseason first-team All-SAC after being selected second-team All-SAC and SAC Defensive Player of the Year last season. She led Tusculum in scoring at 12.6 points per game and led all of NCAA Division II in steals per game at 3.96. The Ann Arbor, Michigan native reached double figures in scoring 20 times last season, including season highs of 23 points against Coker on Jan. 12 and Catawba on Jan. 26.
Her 107 total steals in 27 games were the second-most in a single season in program history, and included at least one steal in each game in which she played. Long had a career-high eight steals against Coker on Jan. 12 and had at least four steals in 17 of her 27 games, part of a streak of 24 straight games with two or more steals to end the regular season.
In two seasons at Tusculum, Long is averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 47.2 percent from the field. She has recorded 176 steals in 54 career games, ranking her tenth on the Tusculum all-time list. Her 3.5 assists per game are seventh-best in Pioneer program history.
Forward Kasey Johnson returns after sitting out last season. The 6-footer from Greensboro, North Carolina was named honorable mention All-SAC for the second straight season in 2017-18, averaging 12.2 points per game (14th in the SAC) and 6.5 rebounds per game (10th in the SAC) during the regular season. Johnson ranked third in the SAC in three-point percentage at 44.2 percent, the sixth-best in a single season by a Pioneer and best since the 2008-09 season, and included a 14-game stretch to end the season in which she went 26-for-46 (56.5 percent) from long range.
Johnson will begin her senior season needing 76 points to become the 17th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points, and is ranked third in career three-point field-goal percentage (43.8 percent, 67-for-153) and seventh in career rebounding average (6.6 per game). Johnson also ranks 11th in program history in overall field-goal percentage at 48.3 percent.
Guard Sydney Wilson was granted a fifth year of eligibility after sustaining a season-ending injury against Anderson on Nov. 28. Wilson was averaging 12.2 points per game at the time of her injury, and scored in double figures in each of her first four contests.
The 5-9 guard from Greensboro, North Carolina was honorable mention All-SAC in 2017-18 after scoring a team-high 14.2 points per game to rank ninth in the conference. Wilson also ranked ninth in the SAC in foul shooting at 77.0 percent and canned 72 three-pointers, including 26 of the Pioneers' 27 games. Wilson is 141 points shy of reaching 1,000 for her career and currently ranks sixth on the Tusculum career three-pointers list with 114.
Also back from injury is senior post player Torry Patton, who was lost for the season on Dec. 1 at Catawba. Patton played in five games last year after starting all 27 games as a junior, during which she averaged 4.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for the Pioneers. The 5-9 senior from Nashville, Tennessee also ranked fourth in the SAC in offensive rebounds at 2.8 per game during 2017-18.
Junior guard Jalia Arnwine is also back for the Pioneers after making 22 starts last season. The 5-6 native of Knoxville, Tennessee averaged 7.1 points per game for the Pioneers and shot 80 percent from the free-throw line, while reaching double figures in scoring nine times including a career-high 15 against Newberry on Jan. 21.
Forward Jasmine Williams is the fifth Pioneer in her final season at Tusculum, and the 6-2 senior from Morristown, Tennessee is coming off a solid 2018-19 season. She averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in 27 contests, including 11 starts, and averaged a career-best 1.3 blocks per game. Williams also connected on 26 three-pointers after making just two in her first two seasons, shooting 35.6 percent from beyond the arc. In 61 career games, Williams is averaging 3.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game.
Junior forward Maddie Sutton appeared in 24 games last season and averaged 1.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game for the Pioneers. The 6-footer from Walland, Tennessee has played 49 career games at Tusculum and is averaging 3.3 points per game.
A trio of sophomores return for the Pioneers -- guards Mya Belton and Marta Rodrigues along with forward Brittney Cupp.
Belton appeared in 22 games last season, and the 5-10 native of Blythewood, South Carolina averaged 3.9 points per game while connecting on 17 three-pointers. Belton scored a season-high 23 points against Hiwassee on Feb. 6 and scored 10 points on two other occasions for the Pioneers.
Rodrigues averaged 13.3 minutes per game as a backup to Long and averaged 2.8 points per game in 26 contests. Rodrigues collected 11 steals against Bluefield State on Jan. 2, the second-highest single-game total in Division II during the 2018-19 season. The 5-6 native of Lisbon, Portugal also scored 18 points against Bluefield State, and added 11 against Queens on Dec. 16.
Cupp joined Tusculum as a mid-year transfer, and the 6-3 native of Lafollette, Tennessee collected four points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes spanning six games off the bench.
Five junior transfers and three freshmen will join the Pioneer program for the 2019-20 season.
Guard Elle Hutchinson comes to Tusculum after two seasons at Young Harris College. The 5-8 native of Cairns, Australia appeared in 27 games last season and averaged 5.1 points and 2.9 assists per game for the Mountain Lions. Hutchinson is a career 71.8 percent foul shooter and averaged 3.6 points in 41 career games with Young Harris. Hutchinson averaged more than 17 points per game in high school in Australia.
Another guard, 5-7 Aliyah Miller, joins the Pioneers after averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game and shooting 44.8 percent from three-point range for Volunteer State. The Clarksville, Tennessee product had a season-high 30 points against Dyersburg State and reached double figures 19 times in 25 games.
Walters State transfer guard Brianna Dixon averaged 6.7 points and 5.3 assists per game for the Senators. The 6-footer from Decatur, Georgia was an All-Region performer at Duluth High School before going to Walters State.
Guard Adalys Brown was the second-leading scorer at Roane State last season at 9.5 points per game, and shot 43.3 percent from three-point range. The 5-8 Knoxville, Tennessee native was All-Conference at South-Doyle High School prior to her two seasons at Roane State.
Also joining Tusculum from the JUCO ranks is 6-2 center Taylor Stibbe, who came off the bench at the College of Southern Idaho last season. The native of Melbourne, Australia averaged 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over seven minutes per game.
Freshmen members of the Pioneer squad include 5-4 guard Hannah Barr from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 5-7 guard Reece Stover from Crossville, Tennessee and 5-8 guard Kirsten Click from Cincinnati, Ohio.
After this weekend's games against Belmont Abbey and King, the Pioneers will play their home opener against Clayton State on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. at Pioneer Arena before heading to North Georgia for two games at the Nighthawk Classic on Nov. 15 and 16.