FGCU Women's Basketball Opens Monday against Saint Leo
FORT MYERS, Fla – With 15 home games, Karl Smesko is looking for continued dominance at Alico Arena to propel Florida Gulf Coast University in its first year of NCAA Division II post-season eligibility.
For the first time its three seasons of play, FGCU is now a full-fledged NCAA member and eligible for the NCAA post-season tournament for the first time. The NCAA granted FGCU full Division II membership in all sports this past July.
With the move to full NCAA Division II membership, the Eagles will be competing head to head with some of the top teams in the NCAA Division II South region. The 27-game schedule is highlighted by four tournaments being held on campus, including the 3rd Annual Hillmyer-Tremont Tip-Off Classic and a season-ending National Independent Tournament.
The Eagles, who have won 24 of 25 games at Alico Arena the past two seasons, will host the likes of Sunshine State Conference members Saint Leo, Eckerd and a home and home series with rival Florida Southern. The University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon, who handed FGCU its only home loss last year, visits in November.
FGCU will face several stiff tests on the road as they travel to 2004 NCAA tournament qualifiers West Florida in January and Christian Brothers University in February.
The Eagles will host Saint Leo in Alcio Arena on Monday night at 7:00 p.m. in the home opener. FGCU will also host the University of Puerto Rico–Bayamon on Friday, November 19 at 5:30 p.m. and Eckerd College on Saturday, November 20 at 5:30 p.m. as part of the 3rd Annual Hillmyer-Tremont Classic.
2004-05 FGCU Women’s Basketball Outlook
Most college athletic teams change from season to season, but it will be a new look for the Florida Gulf Coast University women’s basketball team this year. The Eagles have won 48 games over the past two seasons and earned some national recognition along the way. But this season the Eagles will have to overcome the loss of three starters.
Third year head coach Karl Smesko has reloaded the roster with a group of talented transfers and several promising freshmen. In addition, a starter from two years ago returns from a medical red shirt year.
"We have enough good players returning to be successful," Seiko says. "We just need them to focus on what we're teaching and be ready to give a full effort every day.”
Gone are three starters combined for 55 points and 19 rebounds a game, including Robin Swain, a 6-4 center who led the team in scoring and rebounding the past two seasons.
Leading the list of returnees are senior forward Andrea Clarke (Guelph, Ontario), and a trio of junior guards –, Megan Jones (Indianapolis, IN) and Candy Myers (New Batavia, OH), and Jennifer Santana (Pembroke Pines, FL).
Clarke is the top returning scorer and rebounder from a year ago, averaging 11.4 points and 5 rebounds and will be a key in the frontcourt. Jones led the team with 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game last season and will see the bulk of action at point guard. Myers averaged 8.6 points a year ago, connecting on 37% of her three-point attempts. Santana, who started for the Eagles two seasons ago, will see time at both the guard and forward positions.
With transfer Miranda Walson (Lansing, MI) out for the season with a shoulder injury, junior Ebonie Halliburton (East St. Louis, IL) returns from a stress fracture in her leg that forced her to miss all of last year to become the top reserve in the backcourt. Freshman Jennifer Claxton (Fairbanks, AK) adds depth.
Joining Clarke in the frontcourt will be fellow Canadian and junior forward Alex Kwiecinska (Mississauga, Ontario), a transfer from Central Florida Community College, junior transfer Andrea Holbrook (Jeffersonville, IN), who joins FGCU from Labette Community College in Kansas, and junior Kristy Hartley (Naples, FL), a standout for the Eagles volleyball team this fall making her collegiate debut.
Smesko is counting on two promising freshman to help the Eagles inside the paint. Amber Bishko (Orlando, FL) and Jessica Hathaway (Fort Wayne, IN) have been impressive in pre-season camp and are expected to contribute right away.
“Reaching the NCAA tournament is a very difficult goal, but it's not unrealistic," said Smesko. “We’re going to have to win our share to get the respect to get us into the tournament, and once you get in, anything can happen. But we need to get invited. We have to make sure our season is strong enough that we can't be left out."