Otahkian makeover continues with loss of players

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

A tip for Southeast Missouri State University women's basketball fans:Keep a program handy next season.

You may not see many familiar faces.

First-year coach B.J. Smith announced Monday that three players have left the squad, meaning the Otahkians will feature 10 newcomers among their 15 scholarship players.

Leaving the program are senior-to-be Tiffany Melis, junior-to-be Tisa Thomas and sophomore-to-be Candice Coffey, a walk-on.

Melis started 24 of the 25 games she played in last season at small forward, averaging 6.4 points and 2.1 rebounds. She shot 34 percent from three-point range and finished her career at Southeast ranked fifth all-time in three-pointers with 69.

Melis graduated this month with a degree in human resource management. She has indicated she will not transfer to another school and will instead enter the work force.

Thomas appeared in 27 games last season, mainly in a backup center role. She averaged 7.0 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field.

Thomas' plans are unknown, although she indicated she might return to Southeast to take classes and not play basketball.

Coffey saw limited action last season, averaging 1.4 points in 93 total minutes of playing time. Coffey, who is on an academic scholarship, will remain at Southeast and concentrate on her academics.

Losing experience

"We will definitely lose and miss the experience those players brought to the floor, but they are looking to pursue other things at this point in their life," Smith said. "I hope whatever it is they decide to do, it works out well for them."

Many programs lose players after a coaching change, although Smith said he didn't necessarily expect it.

"In all honesty I didn't know what to expect," he said. "But change is hard. It's hard on the coaches and hard on the players."

The Otahkians will return five scholarship players next season, including returning starters Lori Chase and LaShelle Porter, who will both be seniors. Chase has been Southeast's leading scorer the past two years.

Other players who will return are senior Kristy Roherty, sophomore Andrea Koeper and freshman Tanya Guell. Roherty and Koeper, a Jackson High School product, both saw primarily reserve action last season. Guell redshirted after suffering a serious knee injury during her first year at Southeast.

Gaining a guard

Smith has already signed nine players for next season and he plans to sign a 10th to reach the maximum of 15 scholarship players the NCAA allows for Division I women's basketball.

Southeast's most recent signee, announced Monday, is Kenja White, a 5-foot-8 shooting guard who averaged 16.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals for Smith at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in 1999-2000, helping lead the Lady Norse to fourth place in the national junior-college tournament.

White, ranked the nation's top junior-college guard by several publications three seasons ago, then spent two years away from basketball for personal reasons. She will be a sophomore in eligibility at Southeast.

"She is very talented, she just has had some bumps in the road the last couple of years," Smith said. "She is a very athletic, skilled guard who can take over a game by herself offensively."

Among Smith's nine signees so far are eight junior-college transfers, including four who played for him at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.

Added Smith, "Even the returners are new because our style will be so different than what they've played. But I like our talent. I think our talent is plenty good enough to compete with anybody on our schedule. But talent is not enough, now we have to work on our commitment level."

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