FORT SMITH -– UAFS women’s basketball coach Louis Whorton has a pretty good sense as to when his Lady Lions reach the point where they are tired of preseason practice.
Now is that time.
"There’s a point and time when you know in your heart that your team isn’t going to get any better until it plays, and no coach wants to admit that you are there," said Whorton, who begins his 28th season. "You always say that you would like another month of practice, but in reality, it’s time to tip it up, start playing and improve that way."
UAFS will open the regular season this weekend when it hosts its annual Lady Lions Classic at the Stubblefield Center. It will be one of the most competitive two-day, four-team events in recent history with Northeastern State, Harding and West Texas A&M rounding out the field.
West Texas A&M will play Northeastern State at 5:30 p.m. and Harding will play UAFS at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and Harding will play Northeastern State at noon and West Texas A&M will play UAFS at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Live stats and webcast will be available for each game by visiting Lions Fan Central on the UAFS athletics website (www.uafortsmithlions.com). The West Texas A&M-UAFS game on Saturday also will be broadcast on KFPW-AM 1230 and via the Internet at www.sportshog1031.com.
Harding was voted the preseason favorite to win the Great American Conference and was among the "others receiving votes’ in the USA Today Sports Division II Top 25 Coaches’ Preseason Poll. West Texas A&M was picked second to finish second in the Lone Star Conference and also was among the "others receiving votes" in the preseason rankings.
Northeastern State was picked sixth in the MIAA Conference and also was among the "others receiving votes" in the preseason rankings.
"I would compare this classic to any classic in the country as far as the level of competition goes," Whorton said. "It’s really going to be a tough row to hoe, but that just says a lot about our program that we can attract teams like that. We have a nice place to play and a great city to visit, and the administration is very supportive of what we do."
It will be the season opener for UAFS but not the first live action of the season for the Lady Lions. UAFS scrimmaged Pittsburg State and played preseason exhibition games against NCAA Division I Missouri State (a 73-42 loss) and NAIA Evangel University (a 101-77 win).
Considering the number of underclassmen on the Lady Lions roster – one senior and no juniors among the 13-player active roster – Whorton is pleased with where his team is at entering the regular-season opener.
"We’re in good shape to be as young as we are," Whorton said.
Four players with considerable starting experience – all sophomores – return from last year’s team that finished 7-19 overall and 4-10 in the Heartland Conference.
Sophomore Brittany Holbert, a 5-foot-5 guard from Keller, Texas, started all 26 games last year and averaged 4.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. She had a team-high 98 assists with 49 steals.
Senior Destyni Howard, a 5-9 guard from Jacksonville, Fla., started 18 games and averaged 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. She had 18 assists with 16 seals. Sophomore Candice Followwell, a 5-9 guard from Sachse, Texas, started 15 games and averaged four points and 3.1 rebounds per game. She had 71 assists and 34 steals.
Sophomore Danielle McFadden, a 5-6 guard from Sumter, S.C., started 12 games and averaged 8.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game and had 24 assists with 22 steals.
Also returning is sophomore Breanna Jones, a 5-9 forward from Farmington, Ark., who started four of the 19 games she played. She averaged 3.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game and had 16 assists and six steals. Freshman Kaytlann Schlinker, a 5-3 guard from Booneville, Ark., also returns after redshirting last season.
"We’ve got a returning group of sophomores that is the most-experienced group of sophomores in the country. Last year when everyone else’s freshmen were sitting our freshmen were playing and taking their lumps," Whorton said.
Whorton and his staff replenished their roster in the offseason with a talented recruiting class featuring eight newcomers – freshman Kadajah Allen, a 6-2 forward from Jacksonville, Fla., freshman Sydney Franklin, a 6-2 guard from West Fork, Ark., freshman Maddy Backus, a 5-4 guard from Mountainburg, Ark., freshman Maya Perry, a 5-9 guard from Huntsville, Texas, freshman Justyne Huber, a 6-1 guard/forward from Prairie Grove, Ark., freshman Kaitlyn Hopkins, a 6-2 post from Pittsburgh, Pa., sophomore Michelle Lumsargis, a 5-3 guard from Prairie Grove, Ark., and Blandine N’Goran, a 6-3 post from Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
"This really good group of freshmen that we’ve brought in has learned to work hard in a hurry," Whorton said. "It’s going to be an exciting team to watch play. We are going to struggle some because of our inexperience, but we aren’t going to struggle because of lack of talent or a lack of effort."
UAFS LADY LIONS CLASSIC
At Stubblefield Center
Game 1: West Texas A&M vs. NSU, 5:30 p.m.
Game 2: Harding vs. UAFS, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: Harding vs. NSU, Noon
Game 4: West Texas A&M vs. UAFS, 2 p.m.