The Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team didn't play like a last-place squad during its first 12 games of the season.
Southeast (5-7) hopes to continue that trend during its Ohio Valley Conference schedule that begins today with a 2 p.m. contest against Belmont (6-7, 1-0) in Nashville, Tenn.
"We feel confident," second-year Southeast coach Ty Margenthaler said. "We've won games. We've battled every single game against great competition."
The Redhawks have displayed considerable improvement against a rugged schedule after winning just seven games during Margenthaler's first season last year.
Southeast, despite riding a two-game losing streak, has its best record through 12 games since the 2007-08 season.
That gives the Redhawks optimism that they can be a major surprise in the OVC after being picked to finish last in the conference's West Division. Southeast hasn't qualified for the OVC tournament since 2008-09.
"I'm looking forward to it," junior forward Patricia Mack said about OVC play. "It's been a very great start considering where we were last year."
It would help the Redhawks' cause entering conference play if they could get healthy.
Margenthaler will be glad to welcome back arguably Southeast's top all-around player for today's league opener.
Senior forward Brittany Harriel, averaging 10.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, has missed the last seven games with a broken finger. Southeast's top scorer and No. 2 rebounder is scheduled to see action today.
"Brittany has come along real well, and we're really looking forward to having her back," Margenthaler said. "We've missed her."
But sophomore guard Allyson Bradshaw continues to be slowed by a left (non-shooting) shoulder injury that forced her to miss Southeast's loss at Western Kentucky on Dec. 16.
Bradshaw, the Redhawks' No. 2 scorer with a 9.6 average and their top 3-point shooter, played only nine minutes during a loss to Missouri State on Dec. 21. She attempted just one shot and did not score.
Belmont was picked third in the East Division after receiving three first-place votes. The Bruins went 12-18 overall last season and finished third in the Atlantic Sun Conference with an 11-7 record.
Belmont has played one OVC game, beating SIU Edwardsville 66-52 on Saturday.
Jordan Coleman, a 5-foot-11 senior forward who transferred from Vanderbilt, paces the Bruins with averages of 11 points and an OVC-leading 10.1 rebounds.