Men’s and women’s basketball teams ready for tip off

Junior guard Luke Corkey pulls up for the shot during practice Nov. 6. The men’s team looks to defend their GSC Championship this year.

Tip off is right around the corner, and the men’s and women’s basketball teams have high expectations for the 2014-15 season.

The Lions are preseason picked to finish third in the GSC by the GSC Preseason Coaches poll. The men’s team is the defending Gulf South Conference champion but lost four starters, including top two scorers Rashuan Claiborne and Bruce Adams.

Men’s head basketball coach Bobby Champagne said he is confident the veteran players will fill in the gaps.

“It’s always tough to replace guys who have been in the program a long time,” he said. “We’ve got some guys who have been here before and know what we’re doing. We’re just trying to mesh the new guys in there with them.”

The team will lean on senior guard Nathan Spehr, junior forward Jere Vucica and senior forward Calvin Dade to step up for the Lions. Spehr shot for 40 percent from three-point land and averaged 12.2 points per game last year.

“We’ve got a few players that were just behind our starters last year, so they’ll be able to step up and have more of an opportunity than they did last year,” Spehr said. “I think it’s going to be difficult, but we have players that are willing to step up.”

Senior forward Marcus Landry is returning to the UNA program. Landry last suited up for UNA during the 2010-2011 season.

“I think if Marcus Landry can return to the type of player he was when he left — an all-league guy — I think he’ll be a very good contributor,” Champagne said.

He said he faces the challenge of a small roster this year, and the men will have to work hard and stay healthy to be successful.

“Depth would probably be our biggest concern right now,” Champagne said. “It wouldn’t be as a concern if our team last year wasn’t so deep.”

UNA lost Nov. 8 in an exhibition game 108-83 at the University of Houston. Dade led the Lions with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Spehr added 19 points and hit three three-pointers.

The first regular season game is against the University of Tampa Nov. 14 at 5:30 p.m. in Huntsville. The first home game is Nov. 17 against Bryan College at 6 p.m.

After a (15-13, 9-10) campaign, the women’s team are picked by the GSC Preseason Coaches Poll to finish fourth in the league. The Lions return four starters to the team, including preseason All-GSC pick Lauren Faris.

“We want to win every single home game, and we think we can do that,” said women’s head coach Missy Tiber. “I think when we go on the road that we should win the ones that we’re supposed to win and maybe one or two of those that you’re not favored in.”

Faris, a senior, will be returning to the court this season after an ACL tear in early February. The Lions went 3-5 after Faris’ injury.

“I think it’s crucial for us to have Lauren Faris back,” Tiber said. “She’s one of our team leaders. She’s not where she needs to be yet as far as recovery, but she gets better everyday.”

Despite her injury, Faris is optimistic about her recovery.

“I’m excited to play in a game again,” Faris said. “Physically I’m 100 percent, but mentally I have to get there.”

Senior forward Makena Randel is returning to the court after sitting out last season. She led the Lions in scoring and rebounding with 11.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in 2012-2013.

“The year before last she was a first-team, all-conference player in the GSC in the post position,” Tiber said. “We’re fortunate to have her.”

Tiber said the depth of the team is the key to success this year.

“Our depth is what’s going to make us good, and that’s why I feel really confident about our team,” she said. “I go home every day wondering who in the world I’m playing. I have a good player at every position and another good player right behind them.”

The regular season starts Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. as the Lions travel to Bellarmine University.