CARBONDALE — Whoever the best player on Tennessee-Martin's women's basketball team is, one thing is for sure in tonight's season opener at SIU.
Saluki senior guard/forward Kylie Giebelhausen will not be the only player that can guard her. Giebelhausen, a long 6-foot-1, often had to take the opponents' best player, coach Cindy Stein said, but this year's squad has a few more options for 5-7 guard Kendall Spray, 6-foot senior forward Janekia Mason and guard Myah Taylor.
"Nicole (Martin) has gotten so much better, defensively. Celina (VanHyfte) is coming along really well," Stein said. "We still got Lauren Hartman, who is really, really solid. I think our post play is really solid, as far as they know what to do. Now, it's getting it done, and with the guards, we've got some young players where their defense has gotten better, like Kris Nelson. Brittney Patrick. Their defense has gotten better, so I think that helps us."
Spray, last season's Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the year, averaged 12.5 points per game. Her 89 3-pointers set a Skyhawks record, and in the team's lone exhibition game, she scored 27 points with five rebounds, five assists and four steals. Tennessee-Martin beat Lindsey Wilson College 97-42.
Mason, the Skyhawks' only projected senior starter, averaged 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds last season. She scored 10 points or more in her last 10 games. Taylor, a 5-10 junior guard, scored a career-high against the Salukis with 25 points in last season's 76-68 win in Martin, Tennessee. Spray, Taylor and graduate forward Ashton Feldhaus were all preseason All-OVC picks.
Giebelhausen, the Salukis' leading scorer last season at 13.8 points per game, also averaged 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. She was named to the Missouri Valley Conference preseason team.
The Skyhawks, who are coming off their first losing season in seven years, will start the season down three players with knee injuries. Tamiah Stanford, a 5-6 sophomore transfer from Motlow State Community College who led the NJCAA with 220 assists last season, freshman forward Damiah Griffin and freshman guard Paige Pipkin are all out.
Stein expects to redshirt guard Olivia Bowling and freshman forward Criste'On Waters, but has three new starters, two of them freshmen.
"I'm excited because I want to see what we're capable of," Stein said. "It's going to be a tall task early. UT-Martin has always been extremely well-coached and play hard, and do some really good things, and they make a lot of great adjustments throughout the game, and we've gotta do the same thing."