It will feel different for Flagler College women’s basketball coach Erika Lang-Montgomery when she walks along the bench during today’s season opener.
Instead of seeing mostly players in street clothes and empty seats, Montgomery will walk past a full squad of players, all capable of entering the game and contributing.
The Saints will host Ave Maria at 1 p.m. today at Flagler Gymnasium.
“It’s nice to have 14 players, instead of seven, which we had most of last year,” Lang-Montgomery said. “Last year was tough. I don’t wish that on any coach or the players.”
Three players were injured for most of the year; two others left the team. Practices consisted of a lot of 3-on-3 matchups. The heavy minutes took a toll on the team, which finished 5-21, 3-16 in the Peach Belt Conference.
The positive is the core group, led by seniors Alex Alford, Tiffany Hodge, Bri Roberts and Maggie Flynn, returns with a ton of experience under its belt. And this year the returnees will have help.
“I definitely think this is the most athletic team I’ve had,” Lang-Montgomery said. “We have quickness on the perimeter and size and depth in the post. Right now I think we can go eight, nine (deep). As the season goes on, we could have two strong units — that’s a coach’s dream.”
Four of the newcomers are junior-college transfers, and all four are expected play major minutes. Malaysia Robinson, a 5-foot-8 guard from Florida State College-Jacksonville, led the Saints with 17 points and eight rebounds in their exhibition game at the University of Massachusetts on Monday.
“We knew she could score, but her rebounding was a surprise,” Lang-Montgomery said.
Tatiyana Rock, a 5-5 guard from Santa Fe College, had 10 points and five rebounds against UMass, while 6-5 Tabitha Odabe, who also played for Santa Fe, grabbed eight boards.
“Tabitha is further along defensively than offensively right now,” Lang-Montgomery said of the native of Nigeria. “She’s improving each day. This is only her fourth year in basketball, and she’s made tremendous strides.”
Odabe will provide some inside support for Hodge, who averaged 13.7 points and 12 rebounds in 35.6 minutes of action last year.
The other transfer, 5-9 Rayven Wade of Santa Fe, has a sprained thumb and will likely not play today but should be a contributor when she returns.
“She is a tremendous athlete and a great rebounder.” Lang-Montgomery said.
The newcomers join a returning group that includes Alford, who set a single-season school record with 157 assists last year; Roberts, who led the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game; Flynn, who averaged 11.9 points and drilled 51 3-pointers; and sophomore Kierra Crane, who averaged 9.1 points last season.