Women playing with a purpose

To win the MEAC championship and nothing less is the expectation for Florida A&M women’s basketball coach LeDawn Gibson.

Coming off of a 15-15 season, 9-7 in the MEAC, the Lady Rattlers are ranked fourth in the MEAC preseason polls. Even though a lot of the Rattlers are young, coach Gibson said the Rattlers can capitalize off of their athleticism.

“We’re quick and have speed,” Gibson said. “We’re a little young but some of our younger players can have an immediate impact.”

Gibson said her three returning seniors are going to be the key to success this season. All three were selected to the preseason All-Conference teams.

Antonia Bennett is returning at the guard position. Bennett finished last season averaging 16.3 points with 56 three pointers, 172 rebounds, 38 assists and 61 steals. Bennett was also a candidate for the Team USA Olympic Team in the Pan-American Games and passed the 1,000-point mark as a junior.

Also returning this season is Tameka McKelton of West Palm Beach. McKelton was the team’s leading scorer last season with 16.5 points per game. She scored 495 points, 49 three pointers, grabbed 98 rebounds, 47 assists, and 48 steals.

Leading the Rattlers in the paint is defensive star Qiana Donald. Donald led the team with 243 rebounds last season. Gibson said these seniors’ experience will be key to the team’s success. Gibson is also looking for stability within the team.

“This is a brand new team and a brand new year. The young ladies are working hard and all of us are going for that common goal, which is a championship at the end,” Gibson said.

The Rattlers start toward their goal this Friday in an exhibition game against the University of West Florida.

The team has decided to dedicate this season to Shannon Washington, who was killed earlier in the semester. They are also making a tribute to Washington’s mother before Friday’s game. Gibson had very high expectations for Washington.

“She was only here two weeks, but she showed us a lot of heart while she was here. With the working out and conditioning that she did in the two weeks, you could tell that she was going to be a great impact on the program and in the conference,” Gibson said. “The loss of her really brought the team a lot closer.”

Gibson anticipates sophomore Kimberly Sparkman to step into Washington’s role to make up for the loss. Sparkman is a smaller guard that is quick.