Agee excited for 2008-09 campaign
UNCG coach Lynne Agee thought she'd seen a lot in her illustrious career.
Last year, she discovered a whole new chapter in the book of a coach's life.
The night before practice was set to open, her Conference Player of the Year candidate Kristen Boone tears up her knee.
Bang – the season's expectations were blown up before it started.
"What can you say?," chuckled Agee when asked to reflect on the year before. "It was a shock to the system. A player of that ability is lost on the eve of your first practice – it just isn't anything you can prepare for.
"We had to go forward the best we could at that point. It took a little while to get things upright and we had to ask some people to do things that they weren't ready to do.
"A year later, though, our returning players are better for it and now Kristen's back in the line-up."
And so the Spartans embark on a new campaign with eight players returning from a year ago, including Boone. While the Spartans graduated four starters from last year's 7-24 squad, Agee likes what she has seen in the early going from this year's club.
"For being such a young squad – and we are a VERY young squad – there is a lot of chemistry in this group thus far," said Agee, who ranks 12th among active coaches with 566 career wins. "I am very impressed with the way they have worked together thus far."
Agee should know chemistry when she sees it. This will be her 31st season as a college coach, the 28th at UNCG. Last season's 7-24 mark was just her second losing season ever. Stack that up against 13 conference titles and 17 seasons of 20 or more wins and you see that Agee doesn't need a crystal ball to see what her fortune might be.
Obviously, Boone is the centerpiece to the backcourt. She was the Southern Conference's Preseason Player of the Year last year before suffering her knee injury. Determined to play through the injury, Boone gave it a shot. However, she lasted just six minutes of the Liberty game and decided it was time to have the knee repaired.
Just 52 points away from 1,000 in her career, Boone averaged double figures in each of her three seasons. She has gone to the free throw line 408 times in her career, while handing out 321 assists. Simply put, she is what makes the offense go.
The key to the Spartans on the defensive end of the floor, as well, Boone has 315 steals in her career to set a new school record. The native of Upper Marlboro, MD was 14th in the nation in steals as a junior after leading the nation as a freshman and ranking third as a sophomore.
"Kristen is certainly our spark plug, no question," said Agee. "On the defensive end, she creates havoc for the opposition. On the offensive end, her ability to create for herself and her teammates goes beyond the word 'gamechanger.'"
Boone will not be the lone talent, though, in a talented backcourt. Sophomore Monique Floyd comes back after a solid rookie campaign. Floyd played all 31 games last season with 29 starts. She averaged 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Scoring in double-figures five times during the season, the native of Fairmont, NC earned a spot on the SoCon's All-Freshman squad.
"Mo had a great rookie season," said Agee. "From the very first game when she played 31 minutes at NC State – more than any other freshman had ever played in their first collegiate game, she was up to the task."
Senior Ashley Ling and junior Lakiah Hyson also gained valuable experience in the backcourt last season in Boone's absence. The two split time at the point guard slot last season, Ling starting the first half of the season and Hyson starting most of the second half of the campaign.
Hyson, a native of Accokeek, MD and former high school teammate of Boone's, averaged 4.7 points per contest. She took a page from Boone's playbook, recording 52 steals last season while averaging 20.4 minutes per contest.
Ling, a Centerville, VA, product, averaged 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds while playing about 22 minutes per contest.
TaShama Banner was another rookie that went through a trial by fire last season. She appeared in 18 games off the bench averaging 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds per contest. Playing 5.2 minutes per game, she gained valuable experience that will go a long way this season.
Ashley Mullins, who enters her senior season, played 27 games, but that more than doubled her career games total (45). A native of Honaker, VA, Mullins has the ability to step out and shoot the trey, knocking down 19 trifectas a year ago while averaging 9.3 minutes per contest.
UNCG adds shooting guard Amanda Leigh's services this season, as well. Leigh sat out last season after transferring in from Winthrop. The Robbinsville, NC, native has redshirt sophomore status. Originally recruited by UNCG before choosing Winthrop, Leigh played in 26 games as a freshman for the Eagles.
Another newcomer to the backcourt is freshman Sarah Folwell. A local product from Southern Alamance HS and Graham, NC, the 6-0 Folwell was a three-time all-conference selection and 1,000-point scorer at Southern Alamance – just the second in the school's history.
"We certainly have a stockpile of guards to start the season," said Agee. "That might mean an adjustment for Gini Grimsley. We need some experience up front and she is the likely candidate for that spot."
Grimsley is UNCG's leading returning scorer at 8.1 points per game. Without Boone in the line-up, she became UNCG's best offensive option most times last season. She knocked down 46 three-pointers as a result, shooting 34 percent from behind the arc. But at 6-0, she would bring size to the frontcourt.
As Agee eluded to, the remainder of the frontcourt is youthful. Kendra Smith played 28 games off the bench last year as a freshman and played the most of the returning frontcourt players. Averaing 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds per contest, Smith played a shade over 13 minutes per game.
"We will ask for a lot more from Kendra this season," said Agee. "She has the talent to be a strong contributor, being able to play with her back to the basket or facing up. What we need from her, though, is for her to bring that along with a degree of physicality."
Agne Girstautaite, a redshirt sophomore from Kaunas, Lithuania, played in 30 of 31 games last season. The tallest member of the squad at 6-4, she averaged 2.6 points and 2.3 rebounds.
The rest of the frontcourt consists of freshmen Amy Clapper, Jazz Weaver and Agneta Morkunaite and junior college transfer Dee Corbett.
Corbett, a 6-3 junior, spent the last two seasons at Louisburg Junior College. Last season, she averaging 9.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The Kelly, NC, native scored in double-figures 16 times and nearly shot 50 percent from the floor.
Weaver, a 5-10 freshman from Covington, KY, was the Northern Kentucky Player of the Year. She averaged 11.3 rebounds per game, which ranked in the Top 10 in the state. She accumulated more than 1,000 points and 800 rebounds at Holmes HS.
Morkunaite and Girstautaite were together briefly at Holy Cross (VA) HS and also played together as a part of the Lithuanian national team program. Morkunaite transferred to Mountain State Academy in West Virginia for her senior year. She has significant international experience, spending four years as a part of the Lithuanian under-20 national team.
The Spartans had hoped to be able to use Clapper up front, as well, but she was lost to a preseason knee injury. A 6-1 freshman, Clapper was a four-year letterwinner at Newark (OH) Catholic and earned all-state honors and the area's Player of the Year award. She would have gotten a chance to play against her sister this season, who plays at Bowling Green. The teams meet up on November 29 at the UNCG Marriott Classic. Instead, Clapper will have to wait until the Spartans return that trip in the 2009-10 campaign.
"We are looking at this season as a whole package," said Agee. "With as inexperienced as we are in the frontcourt, I don't want us to dwell on one game. My focus is on getting better each time out.
"We open with three straight on the road – two of them being ACC foes in Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. That isn't an easy start. But if we keep looking at the season as a whole and not think about individual games, I think we can be successful as the season goes on."
Things you should know:
-- Most women's basketball practices are CLOSED to the public. High school or youth coaches wanting to attend a practice should contact the women's basketball office for more information.
-- The Spartan women's team will play one open exhibition and one closed scrimmage this season. (Under NCAA rules, the scrimmages must be closed to the public.) The exhibition game will be against neighboring Guilford College on Saturday, November 8 at 2 pm.
-- Lynne Agee begins this season in 12th place among active coaches on the all-time win list. At 566, she is four wins ahead of Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw.
-- UNCG's first two games against ACC foes marks the Spartans' toughest start to a season since 1999-2000. That year, UNCG opened at No. 22 Duke in the Preseason WNIT before facing Washington and NC State on consecutive days at NC State's tournament. That was also the last time UNCG opened the season with three straight games away from Fleming (that year seven straight away from home).
-- Season tickets for men's basketball also include general admission tickets for all home women's games. Season tickets are available by calling the UNCG athletics ticket office at (336) 334-3250. For more information on season tickets, click here.
-- Single-game tickets are on sale at this time. The new print at home ticket system through UNCGSpartans.com is expected to be ready for basketball sales in the next few days. It can be found here.
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