Women’s basketball looks to improve upon last season

Sophomore forward Katelyn Nunley runs down the court in a home game last season. The Lions finished the 2015-16 season 5-22.

The North Alabama women’s basketball team enters the 2016-17 season with reason for optimism. Coming off a 5-22 rebuilding year, the Lions look to have a balanced mix of upperclassmen leadership and an influx of incoming talent.

The Lions return 10 lettermen and three starters from last year’s squad, including junior guard KeKe Gunter, sophomore forward Katelyn Nunley and junior guard Jaclyn Heath.

Lions head coach Missy Tiber said she is excited about the athleticism and competition the team has shown throughout the preseason.

“When you look at our team from top to bottom, they’ve all been winners,” Tiber said. “They’ve all come from winning (high school) programs, and many of them won state titles, and that’s something we really wanted to focus on.”

Heath is the de facto go-to leader of the team and embraces the responsibilities that entails, Tiber said.

“Jaclyn makes a huge difference,” Tiber said. “She does a great job of keeping everything clean on the court, and she knows what it takes to play point guard.”

Heath said one of the biggest improvements the team made from last year is team chemistry.

“This is my third year here, and I think this is the closest team since I’ve been here,” Heath said. “We all get along really well. Not only do we hang out at practice, but, we also hang out a lot off the court.”

Gunter said the bond the team now has is reflected in preseason practices.

“This year, more people are learning their roles and the ways they can contribute to the team,” Gunter said. “We are learning how to play better with each other. Last year, only a few players knew how to play with each other, and now, we know what each other is going to do. We can read each other better now.”

Other lettermen returning include senior Tionne Herron, and sophomores Savannah Stults, Elise Holden and Brynn Holden.

Some new faces will also look to make an impact for the Lions this season.

UNA tapped into the Shoals pipeline when they added sisters Emma, Ella and Ivy Wallen from Lauderdale County High School. The Wallen sisters helped LCHS win five-straight 3A state championships from 2012-16.

To help the post, the Lions also added junior forward Michaela DeKilder who previously played at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and hails from Grand Junction, Michigan.

The team receives a boost with the return of sophomore guard Shay Trent.

Trent missed all of the 2015-16 season after taking a medical redshirt. In the 2014-15 season, Trent appeared in all 27 games as a freshman and averaged 6.4 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game.

UNA enters the season slated to finish 11th in the Gulf South Conference, according to the GSC coaches poll, after compiling a 4-18 record in conference play last season.

The Lions open conference play Dec. 4 when archrival Alabama-Huntsville comes to Flowers Hall.

“UAH is the game I’m most pumped about,” Gunter said. “They are our biggest rival, and when we play at home, the crowd is always big. Those big crowds like that make us even more pumped up to play.”

But there are games to consider before UAH.

The Lions played host to Alabama A&M in an exhibition game Nov. 4.UNA won the game 85-59.

They then leave for a three game road trip beginning with another exhibition at Tennessee Tech Nov. 7, followed by a tournament at Tuskeegee Nov. 11-12.

UNA plays its true home opener Nov. 17 when Oakwood comes to Florence.