New Faces Raise Expectations for Ashley’s Golden Eagles

clarion-womenCLARION, Pa. (EYT) – When a team goes 2-25 changes are inevitable.

And that is definitely the case for the Clarion University women’s basketball team which returns just five players from last year’s team, the first under head coach Jana Ashley.

“We have a lot of new faces,” Ashley said. “We made some tough decisions when the season ended last year. We made a lot changes to our roster, and I think we brought in a very talented group of kids.”

Ashley said after spending a year in the PSAC, she realized that it is very tough to get to the top of the conference.

“We have a better feel with recruiting where we need to go and the weaknesses we needed to address after last season,” Ashley said. “When you see us play, you will see we brought in kids who can hit a lot more open shots. We brought in a lot of ball handlers. We knew that the ball-handling aspect was something we had to drastically improve. I think we are tougher from top to bottom. That’s not just a physical toughness but a mental toughness too. We really pushed them in preseason, pushed them farther than some of them thought they could go, harder than they’ve been pushed before, and they all responded.”

With the new group of players, Ashley says the expectation level is a lot higher on the inside than on the outside where the Golden Eagles are picked to finish ninth in the nine-team PSAC West.

While Clarion is heavy on the newcomers, a couple of talented returners will be counted on heavily as well led by last year’s leading scorer Tania Holmes, a senior guard who earned second-team All-PSAC West honors after averaging 15.6 points per game and hitting 57 3-pointers. Holmes is just 165 points shy of 1,000 in her career.

Additional key returnees are junior guard/forward Delrika Jones-Carey (7.8 ppg, 5. rpg) and sophomore guard Amesha Harden-Pullium (4.8 ppg, 3.0 apg), who played mainly point guard a year ago but will see plenty of time off the ball this year.

The reason Harden-Pullium will be able to play off the ball is because of the addition of freshman point guard Jordan Bekelja, an Honorable Mention All-Ohio player last year for Solon High School after averaging 10.2 points, 4.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game while helping her team to its fourth straight district title and the regional championship.

Ashley believes so much in Bekelja that she has been named a team captain along with Jones-Carey despite never playing in a regular-season collegiate game.

Two other key additions for the Golden Eagles are junior college transfers Stevie Ray, a guard, and Tyra Polite, another guard.

Ray averaged 17 points and 5 assists per game while being named a first-team All-Region player at Mohawk Valley Community College last year, while Polite averaged 9.7 points, 7.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game while being named a second-team All-Region performer for Kirkwood Community College.

“There were a lot of games last year when ‘T’ (Holmes) had to carry the load for us,” Ashley said. “If she wasn’t scoring or was seeing a double team or was getting trapped like she very often did, we had a really tough time putting the ball in the basket from other spots on the floor. We’ve got I’d seven, eight, nine kids who could score in double figures on any given night right now. I think we are a lot tougher team to scout, and on a night when they are putting the ball in the hole we are going to be a team that puts up a lot more points than we did a season ago.”

Clarion opens its season at the West Virginia State Tournament Nov. 13-14 against West Virginia State (Nov. 13) and Charleston (Nov. 14) before opening at home with its PSAC West opener against Gannon Nov. 18. A complete schedule can be found at http://www.clariongoldeneagles.com/womensbasketballschedule.


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