The transition from the Southern Conference to the Colonial Athletic Association has not yet proven too difficult a challenge for the Elon University women’s basketball team.
After a semifinal loss to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the Southern Conference Tournament last season, the Phoenix knew it would need to prove itself moving into the Colonial Athletic Association. To make the transition even more strenuous, Elon’s leading scorer and only senior, Kelsey Harris graduated this past year, forcing veterans such as senior guard Zora Stephenson and senior forward Sam Coffer to step up. Although Harris’s absence was significant to the team, head coach Charlotte Smith spoke of the tremendous leadership the returning veterans have displayed.
“I think Coffer and Stephenson have done a phenomenal job leading the charge for this team,” Smith said.
Because of the leadership, the Phoenix is seeing results on the court. Elon is 11-6 overall and 4-2 in the CAA. As a result, Elon is sitting in third place in the CAA standings.
It’s a drastic change from last season when elon started 5-10. When asked why, the answer was unanimous: “depth.”
This depth comes from the addition of talented freshmen such as guard Shay Burnett and center Malaya Johnson. The two freshmen have made a statement early in the season, becoming two of the three leading scorers for the Phoenix in their first 18 games of college basketball.
“Most teams that we are playing are worried about one person,” said Stephenson. “On our team you can’t just worry about one person because then somebody else will get you.”
Since the end of December, the Phoenix has been on a hot streak, winning six of its last eight. Though the season is only just passing the halfway mark, some players are confident that this type of play can continue until March.
Last year, sophomore guard Lauren Brown was named to the SoCon All-Freshman team, and sophomore forward Jenifer Rhodes was named SoCon Freshman of the Year. Being able to recruit talented players like Johnson, Burnett, Brown and Rhodes attracts potential recruits to Elon and builds the character of the program.
But recruiting that talent is not an easy job.
“Everything is a process,” Stephenson said. “Everything [Smith] has instilled in all of her players is coming to light this year,”
A dozen games still remain in the season, all against CAA opponents. Two of these games are against teams the Phoenix has lost to: James Madison University and Drexel University.
Despite the impending challenges, Smith is not worried. In her 13th season coaching women’s college basketball, she is confident in her team’s chances in this coming postseason.
“That’s what we have always felt from the beginning,” Smith said. “We knew in the back of our minds that we can compete in the CAA.”
Johnson is also confident in Elon’s potential.
“We all know what we want to accomplish, and from that everything flows,” she said.