Southeast Missouri State University's women's basketball team figures to face quite a challenge during today's season opener.
The Otahkians will take on a strong Montana squad in the opening round of the four-team Texas-Pan American Tournament. The tipoff in Edinburg, Texas, is set for 5 p.m.
Today's other first-round contest features host Texas-Pan American against Arkansas-Little Rock. The finals and third-place game will be Saturday.
"Montana is a very good team and it's going to be a great first test for us," said Southeast coach Ed Arnzen. "But we're looking forward to the challenge."
A perennial Big Sky Conference contender, Montana returns three starters from last year's 23-9 squad that reached the championship game of the Big Sky Tournament. The Lady Grizzlies are regarded as one of the Big Sky's preseason favorites this year.
"They're big. They'll start 6-4 and 6-3 inside," Arnzen said. "They're just a quality, quality basketball team. They will be very difficult for us, but I also think we're a good basketball team and I think we can compete with this club."
The Otahkians return all five starters from last year's team that went 14-13 overall and finished a fourth-place 9-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Southeast was picked fifth in the OVC preseason poll, but many of the Otahkians aren't buying into that.
"I expect great things," said senior guard Veronica Benson, the Otahkians' second-leading scorer last season at 12.1 points per game. "I think we're capable of beating anybody that is put in front of us."
Said junior forward Lori Chase, the Otahkians' leading scorer last season (14.7 ppg) and a first-team all-OVC selection, "We're really excited about this year. We have a lot of returning players and a lot of newcomers that have accepted their roles."
Arnzen plans to have the five returning regulars from a year ago in today's starting lineup, although he won't hesitate to go to his bench early and often.
Joining Chase and Benson to open today's contest will be senior center Pam Iversen, who is entering her fourth season as a starter; junior forward Tiffany Melis; and junior point guard LaShelle Porter.
"I like this basketball team, I really do. We have good chemistry and there is a good deal of talent," said Arnzen. "We do have all five starters back, but we've got a lot of competition for those positions and I'm not sure anybody has a lock on a starting job.
"I think we're two deep at every position and I think it's a great blend of older people and new people."
Following this weekend's tournament, the Otahkians will have their first home game Tuesday when Division II Oakland City comes to the Show Me Center.