Seniors Brown, Russia have lived up to leadership roles

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Tatiana Conceicao is without question the top player for Southeast Missouri State's women -- but coach B.J. Smith wonders where the Redhawks would be without their two senior stalwarts, Brandi Russia and Chandra Brown.

"Brandi and Chandra have both played so well for us," Smith said. "As good a player as Tatiana is and as good a season as she's having, I really feel like the difference in our team this year has been the seniors.

"I don't know that we expected them to play as well as they've played. They're both having great senior years."

While the statistics of Russia, a guard, and Brown, a forward, are solid, Smith says their contributions -- along with those of third senior Miah Shelford, whose playing time has been limited -- go well beyond simple numbers.

"They've given us great leadership, and Miah has been as big a part of that as Brandi and Chandra," Smith said.

The Redhawks' three seniors will he honored before today's 5 p.m. regular-season finale at the Show Me Center against Tennessee-Martin (9-17, 8-7 Ohio Valley Conference), as Southeast (19-7, 13-2) tries to clinch the program's first 20-win season on the Division I level.

Southeast, in second place in the 11-team OVC, can still tie for the regular-season title with a win and an Eastern Kentucky loss. Either way the Redhawks will host a first-round OVC tournament game Tuesday night.

"We probably won't get the conference title in the regular season, but we're going to get that tournament," Brown said.

The 6-foot-3 Brown was Southeast's lone returning starter from last season, when she averaged 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game after transferring in from junior college.

Although Brown's scoring is down this year, her overall play has certainly not been. She is averaging 8.4 points, but leads the team with 7.0 rebounds and also is first in blocked shots with 43.

Brown, second in the OVC in blocks and fifth in rebounding, is third on the school's single-season list for blocked shots and just three off the record. She is also tied for sixth with 69 career blocks despite playing just two seasons.

"Scoring is going to come and go, but I just try to do my role with defense and rebounding," said Brown, a native of Louisville, Ky. "I just have to fit in with the team and help out wherever I can."

Russia, another of four returning players from last year, averaged only 3.7 points in a reserve role after also transferring in from junior college. She had sat out the previous season and said the rust was evident.

But now the 5-7 Russia is Southeast's second-leading scorer at 10.7 points -- behind Conceicao's 17.7 that ranks second in the OVC -- while shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range to rank fourth in the OVC. In conference games only, Russia ranks third in 3-point percentage at a sizzling 45.5.

"Last year I was just getting back into the rhythm of things, 'cause I had sat out a year, and I think that's a big part of it," said Russia, a native of Cincinnati, of her improved play.

Said Smith: "Brandi has really shot it well, especially since conference started, and that's been really big, because teams have tried to take the paint away from us."

With so many new players on the team, Brown and Russia said they have taken their senior leadership roles to heart.

"We had to," Brown said. "We knew over the summer we had to step up and get the team together -- me, Brandi and Miah. Even though she doesn't play that much, she's as big a part of this as anybody."

Said Russia: "At the beginning of the year we were like, 'Wow, how are we going to do this?' But basically me and CB stepped up, stayed here over the summer and showed everybody what to do."

Shelford, a 5-11 forward from New Zealand via junior college who was one of Smith's first recruits when he took over the program three years ago, was a key contributor her first two seasons but has seen little action this year, primarily because of a back injury.

But Smith said Shelford's contributions cannot be discounted.

"She's been overlooked because she's had so many injuries, but she's provided great leadership to the young players, showing them what to do," Smith said. "She's handled not playing very much so well, and that's probably a lot tougher role than the other two."

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