Columbia College women’s basketball coach Mike Davis had a hard time masking his excitement Thursday.
Davis, entering his fourth season as coach of the Cougars, couldn’t help but smile when reporters asked about the potential of this year’s team at media day.
“This group has the opportunity to do some amazing things before they leave,” Davis said. “We have some ladies who are at a very high skill level.”
Indeed. Three All-Americans – Tiffany Foote, Lisa Kowalewski and Charliss Ridley – return to a Cougars team that finished 28-8 last season, and ended the year ranked No. 17 in the country. Columbia College begins this season ranked No. 13 in the NAIA Division I Basketball Preseason poll, released Tuesday.
“I think we would’ve been disappointed if we wouldn’t have had a good preseason ranking,” Davis said. “From the things we accomplished and the players we have returning, I think we earned it.”
Experience should also prove key for the Cougars this season. They return eight players from last year’s squad, including five seniors. Foote, Kowalewski and Ridley, all seniors, combined to produce nearly 55 percent of the team’s scoring output last season and will be relied upon to lead the team’s younger players.
“It’s been really nice,” Ridley said. “We don’t have to work on getting to know each other because we’ve played with each other for a year already, and some of us have played together for three or four years.”
The men’s team, ranked No. 23 in the NAIA’s Division I Preseason Poll, will look to stay competitive despite the loss of its two leading scorers from 2003-04. Khamari Ballard, 22.6 points per game, and Andre Amos, 16.9, will leave two large holes in a Cougars lineup that scored nearly 80 points per game.
“We’re a different team this year,” coach Bob Burchard said. “We’re really, truly a work in progress. We lost two dominant players last year, and we have some sifting out to do before the season starts.”
Junior forward Nahowan Saxon, who averaged 11.5 points a game a year ago, will return along with senior forward Tim Melz to provide a potent front court attack and senior guard Aaron Edwards will help to alleviate the loss of Ballard.
Burchard will get his first look at his new team on Nov. 5-6, as the Cougars head to Marietta, Ga., for the Southern Polytechnic Tournament.
The women open the season Nov. 1 at Purdue University–Calumet.
As the festivities wound down in the Southwell Complex, though, the anticipation was clearly getting to Davis.
“Right now it’s time to go play,” Davis said. “We’re tired of practicing. We want to go play somebody.”