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Originally published: 2013-03-28 14:21:13
Last modified: 2013-03-28 14:21:29

ASU women's basketball must step up game

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

Appalachian State women’s basketball head coach Darcie Vincent had a message for her Mountaineers: It’s time to pick up the pace — a lot.

Vincent feels the Mountaineers will have to get better if they want to compete in the Sun Belt Conference. Appalachian State made the switch to the new conference official Wednesday.

Though the reason for the switch lies primarily with the football team, most of the other Appalachian State programs will feels the effects. That includes women’s basketball.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Vincent said. “Charlie Cobb said it best, the real work begins now. You’re talking Southern Conference this year finished 21 in the RPI and the Sun Belt finished 12th. So, we’ve got to double up on our hard work and double up our efforts.”

Vincent said the coaching staff met with some of the players and will meet with the others Thursday. She warned the players she did meet with that the Mountaineers will be facing better players and better teams in the Sun Belt.

Appalachian State won two regular season championships during Vincent’s four-year tenure. This season, Appalachian State finished fourth in the conference with a 13-7 league mark, 20-11 overall.

Middle Tennessee won the Sun Belt’s East Division with a 17-3 league mark, 25-8 overall. Western Kentucky was next with a 13-7 league record, 22-11 overall. Arkansas-Little Rock won the West Division with a 14-6 Sun Belt record, 24-9 overall.

Appalachian State won’t have to deal with Middle Tennessee since it will join Conference USA by the time the Mountaineers begin Sun Belt play.

Western Kentucky reached the second round of the WNIT before falling to Auburn. Arkansas-Little Rock lost to Pacific in the first round of the WNIT, and Middle Tennessee lost to Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Vincent isn’t bothered by the Sun Belt’s success in women’s basketball. Instead, she said she’s looking forward to playing in the tougher league.

“I look forward to challenges,” Vincent said. “I’m one of these people who thinks that change is good. Staying stagnant and boring and the same, I’ll fall asleep if (a challenge) doesn’t exist. I’m embracing this challenge a lot to get out and after it.”

Appalachian State must face the new league with several new players. The Mountaineers will play the 2013-14 season in the Southern Conference, so they’ll have a season to adjust to not having four-year starter Anna Freeman and three-year starters Courtney Freeman and Kelsey Sharkey.

They’ll also lose starting point guard Raven Gary next year.

But by the time they get to the Sun Belt, forward Maryah Sydnor and shooting guard Katie Mallow will be seniors. Point guard Jessica Barrios will also be a senior.

Freshmen LaShawna Gatewood, Khadejah Wilkerson and KeKe Cooper and Bria Huffman will be juniors.

Vincent said the move could give the Mountaineers an advantage when it comes to recruiting.

“Really, we’ve just separated ourselves from the rest of North Carolina,” Vincent said. “We’re the only Division I out there minus the ACC. If you’re going to play at another level, you’re either looking at the ACC or at App State right now. Everyone else is below us in the conferences right now. We’ve got to be excited about that and we’ve got to be running with that right now. We’ve got to be walking into gyms and instead of getting the fourth or fifth kids on the roster, we’ve got to get the second and the third and let the No. 1 go to an ACC school.”

Vincent said to be successful, the Mountaineers will have to make adjustments to their game. Appalachian State tried to run past slower teams in the SoCon.

Appalachian State may also not be able to recruit players who will be able to be seen playing basketball by their families.

“We’re going to have to change some things,” Vincent said. “I’m a very family oriented coach and I love families being around and we’ve done a good job of getting local kids wanting mom and dad around and that’s going to be harder now because you are on the road more. You have to convincing that it’s only five away games and we’ll keep our nonconference and keep them close to home.”