Women will begin season in Arkansas

Florida A&M’s women’s basketball team will have another chance early in the season to topple big-name opponents before hitting the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The Lady Rattlers open the season with four road games against teams outside their conference.  Arkansas, Alabama-Birmingham and Cleveland State are a part of the four-game stretch away from home.

Head coach LeDawn Gibson, in her third season at Florida A&M, said while the schedule is tough, she is confident her team will handle it.

“They’re excited,” she said. “Every day in practice is fun. They work hard. There haven’t been any negatives, just a few little nagging injuries. Hopefully, by the first or second game of the regular season, we’ll have everybody back.”

Injuries have plagued Gibson’s team frequently during her tenure as head coach.  Gibson said avoiding the injuries will be paramount to ensuring success this season.

“The injuries hurt us when we got to the MEAC play,” Gibson said. “This year, we’re hoping to stay injury-free.”

Starters Antonia Bennett and Tameka McKelton are returning at full health this season.  McKelton and Bennett averaged 15 and 11 points, respectively, and led the team in scoring last season.  Both were named to preseason all-MEAC teams.

“I’m not really concerned with the accomplishments from last year,” McKelton said. “This is a new season, a new team.  We’ve got to step it up.”

Bennett agreed and said the team’s response to adversity and injury will determine its place in the conference.

“You got to respond quick,” she said. “The ones who were not really playing, they got to step up and really be able to fill the roles.  Injuries always happen, people just have to play up to their potential.”

The Lady Rattlers will also have last season’s leading rebounder, Qiana Donald, at their disposal.  Donald led the MEAC with 11 rebounds per game last season. She said the team is learning to gel to start the season.

“We’ve got almost a new team,” she said. “We’re trying to build our chemistry, working together. I have to be vocal to keep my team together and make sure they’re on point and everything.”

Last season, the team responded well to its tough opening schedule, only to fizzle out when MEAC play came around.  Still, the women finished 18-11, compiling the team’s highest win total since 1999.

Gibson said the team is ready to continue improving.

“We just want to go out there, play hard and represent the university,” Gibson said.

She said a goal for this season will be to stay injury-free, but her team will be ready should another player go down.