By Jordan Childress
BARBOURVILLE, Ky. – The Union College women’s basketball team returns a lot of experience and added youth in hopes of capturing another Appalachian Athletic Conference Championship and punching their ticket to another NAIA National Tournament. The Bulldogs open their 2014-2015 season tomorrow and hope to rekindle some magic from a season ago.
Head coach Tim Curry‘s Bulldogs are coming off a 24-9 overall record and 16-4 conference record. The Bulldogs finished second in the AAC regular season, but defeated Milligan (Tenn.) 72-67 in the AAC Tournament title game as they advanced to the 2014 NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
In the first round of the national tournament the seventh seeded Bulldogs faced off against the number two seed Hastings (Neb.). The Bulldogs dropped a heartbreaking 79-64 loss to Hastings in Union’s fifth appearance in the national tournament.
Curry is entering his 14th season at the helm of the Bulldogs, boasting a 254-165 record during that time. Overall, Curry sports a career mark of 346-277. He will have to replace the likes of Amber Taylor, Alyson Roberts and Marah Rice, who provided senior leadership and half of the Bulldogs offense a season ago.
The Bulldogs return 12 members of the 2014 national tournament team in which Curry will be counting on to provide leadership to the newcomers while leading the way for the Bulldogs.
“We have a lot of returning kids that have played a lot of basketball for us over the last couple of years,” Curry said. “Although we are a young basketball team, our junior class has been very good in the two years they have been here. I’m looking forward to those kids stepping up in the leadership roles.”
The Bulldogs return two of their biggest offensive threats in Lydia Nash (JR/Florence, Ky.) and Haley Perkins (JR/Glasgow, Ky.). Nash earned All-AAC First Team and All-AAC Tournament Team honors. Perkins was an All-AAC Second Team and All-AAC Tournament Team member.
Nash averaged 17.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game a year ago. Her 570 points led the AAC and ranked 22nd nationally. Nash scored double-digits in 29 of the Bulldogs 33 games. She turned in a season-high 36 points against Columbia (S.C.) on Jan. 2, 2014 while going 13-of-17 from the field.
Perkins averaged 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season. She ranked seventh in NAIA Division II for free throw percentage (0.858) and 42nd in steals (70). Perkins scored a career-high a 30 points against Virginia Intermont on Nov. 26, 2014.
Macy Clontz (JR/Lily, Ky.) and Adreana Jefferson (JR/Lawrenceville, Ga.) return for the Bulldogs in the experienced junior class. Clontz saw action in 29 games while starting 22, she averaged 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Curry will look for Clontz to provide a lockdown defense on opposing guards. Jefferson provides the Bulldogs with another frontcourt threat who averaged 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
Reagan King (SO/Hindman, Ky.) provided the Bulldogs a spark in the second half stretch while averaging 4.9 points per game in 26 games. King had a coming out party with a 19-point effort against Lindenwood-Belleville on Feb. 16, 2014.
Aaliyah Lumson (SO/Mayfield, Ky.), who missed the second half of the season will provide the Bulldogs another long guard. Lumson averaged 8.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in 13 games.
Rounding out the list of returnees who will look to provide quality minutes off the bench for the Bulldogs will be Taylor Atkinson (JR/Stanton, Ky.), Jenna Mills (SO/Barbourville, Ky.) and Taylor Wilson (SO/Pineville, Ky.).
Bulldog fans will see 10 new faces on the 2014-2015 squad with two upperclassmen and eight freshman.
Angie Lawrence (SR/Brodhead, Ky.), a transfer from Campbellsville (Ky.) will be looked to step into the point guard and senior leadership role for the Bulldogs. She averaged 7.1 points per game in 28 games for Campbellsville a season ago. She was named to the NAIA Division I All-Tournament team as a freshman for Georgetown (Ky.) in 2012.
“She is a different type of point guard than [Amber] Taylor,” Curry said. “She is good off the dribble and has more of an ability to shoot the basketball than we have had in the past. She has literally never lost at any level in her life and is very competitive.”
Peyton Hisel (JR/Lexington, Ky.), a transfer from Jacksonville State (Fla.) will provide the Bulldogs a post player with NCAA Division I experience. Hisel averaged 4.3 points per game in two years for Jacksonville State.
Newcomers looking to provide quality minutes off the bench for the Bulldogs will be Jillian Buntin (FR/Covington, Ky.), Nannilena White (FR/Frankfort, Ky.), Kaitlyn Stittums (FR/Harlan, Ky.) and Savannah Morrison (FR/Shepherdsville,Ky.).
“We are going to need some of those kids to come forward, certainty from a depth standpoint,” Curry said. “Particular in the backcourt, we have to have those kids step up into roles lost to graduation.”
The Bulldogs will face a challenging schedule early as they only have six home games during the first two months of the season.
Curry’s Bulldogs will open their season against Midway (Ky.) tomorrow night with tipoff set for 8 p.m. in the Union College Classic. On Saturday, the Bulldogs will take on Asbury (Ky.) in the final game of the classic.
The Bulldogs will open up the AAC season on the road at Truett-McConnell (Ga.) on Nov. 12. The first AAC home game will be on Nov. 22 against Milligan (Tenn.) inside Robsion Arena. Union will play four conference games in November, two in December, eight in January and six in February.
The annual Union College Holiday Classic will be Dec. 12-13 as the Bulldogs will take on Alice Lloyd (Ky.) and Indiana University-Southeast.
After the holiday break, Union will be back in action as they travel to St. Andrews (N.C.) Jan. 3 with their first home game of the new year coming on Jan. 10 versus Bryan (Tenn.).
The final month of the regular season will see the Bulldogs host four home AAC games as they hope to put together another run in their final games going into the conference tournament.
“We start every year with the same goal of being competitive and making it to national tournament. We want to be much better in February than we are in November,” Curry said. “I would like to be the best team in the country in November, but if you are then you’re probably in trouble sometimes. If you peak too early, it is hard to sustain it.”
The conference tournament is set for Feb. 25-28, 2015 at the Marriott MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center in Kingsport, Tenn.
After a long preseason, there is still a lot of unknowns on the season for Curry. The Bulldogs have a new floor general and several underclassmen that will be counted on for quality minutes off the bench.
“We have had good days and we have had bad days,” Curry said. “Part of that comes from the comfort level in the backcourt.”
Having 10 newcomers and only three starters returning from last year’s squad, the Bulldogs must find their identity for the long season.
“Every team has its own personality and different makeup,” Curry said. “This team is still looking for their identity and who they are as a team.”
Curry has the elation of having 22 on his squad this season, which will be key down the stretch as legs will be tired in the closing months of the schedule.
“We have the ability to develop more depth on this team than we did last year,” Curry said. “This team has the ability to be more talented and deep than last year’s team.”
Union has won five AAC Tournament Championship and two AAC Regular-Season Championships to go along with their five appearances in the NAIA National Tournament.