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Mashuda, Hawks ready to start

MURFREESBORO – Pat Mashuda likes what he sees around him.

The third-year coach of the Chowan University Women’s Basketball team has five quality players returning, some key newcomers and an assistant coach who is becoming more and more comfortable with the program.

“I think it’s important for us to develop each day in practice and games,” Mashuda said. “We’re rather young. There will be nights where people get us to do things we don’t want to do. As we learn to handle that, success will come with it.”

The Hawks will have five returning players who spent time on the floor last season.

They are led by sophomore forward A.J. O’Banion, who played in 29 games last season as a freshman and scored 265 points on 95-of-196 shooting. She was second on the team in rebounding with 118 boards, 82 of which came on the defensive glass.

“A.J. is maturing,” Mashuda said. “I’m looking forward to the possibility of big things from her. She has also stepped into more of a leadership role for us.”

Senior Keyon Sellers will be important for the Hawks as well after she missed most of the 2006-2007 campaign with an ACL injury.

In only six games, Sellers had 37 boards and averaged 7.5 points per game.

“K was injured last year and is working hard to get back into basketball shape,” Mashuda said. “I’m looking forward to her contributing regularly.”

Joining those two will be senior guard Ashley Banks, who played in 26 games last season and has 21 assists to go with 57 points.

“Ashley is a hard worker who gives you everything,” Mashuda stressed. “Her contributions are on the floor and off the floor.”

Tameka Christopher, a sophomore forward, played in 29 games last season and started 20 of them. She was 17-of-58 from the three-point range and also added a team-high 134 rebounds.

“She is one of the hardest workers we have,” Mashuda said. “I’m happy that she is actually starting to look for her shot more.

“She is a good shooter,” he added. “We’re looking forward to her contributing more on offense because she has always been a hard worker on defense.”

The final returning player is Acquanette Simmons, junior forward, who missed time last year with an injury and is out for at least the opening weeks of this season.

Simmons, who played in just 17 games last season, had a .400 shooting percentage.

“Unfortunately, Acquanette is battling an injury for the third year,” Mashuda said. “We hope she will be back late in December or early in January.”

The coach said he was pleased to have those five back, but he was equally excited about the class of recruits that are entering their inaugural season for Chowan.

“We have a good core of newcomers,” he said. “I’m looking forward to them being the largest graduating class we’ve had here. Not that I’m trying to get them out of here, but that I’m looking forward to them staying together and forming the nucleus of our future success.”

He said the group of newcomers was more than just a handful of good players.

“We’re really excited about this class because they’re good people, good students and they work hard every day,” Mashuda stated. “As we continue to build the program, we’re looking forward to adding more people like these.”

The coach said he was also happy with the progress of assistant coach Alex Street.

“I think, just like a player, that with a new staff member, you have to get a year of experience in the program,” he said. “She is working hard and adding a lot to the program.

“She has done a great job of making my life easier,” he added.

Mashuda said practice had been going well during the opening weeks of the 2007-08 season.

“We’ve had good intensity in practice,” he said. “We’ve worked hard. So far, we’ve come to get better every day.”

The coach said there was much to look forward to in the coming season, but he was mostly excited about his team and their possible progress.”

“I’m looking forward to watching them and helping them get better every day,” he said. “I’ve seen that so far and I’m looking forward to carrying it into game situations.”

One difficulty during the season will be the plurality of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II teams on the schedule.

“Our schedule is a step up from last year,” he said. “As we changed from Division III to Division II, we made a conscious decision to gradually increase the level of competition.

“We’ve tried to increase the schedule each year as we made the transition,” he continued. “Next year will be the same. By doing that, we’ve been able to continue to have success because we don’t want to forget how to be successful in the transition.”

The Hawks had six winning seasons in a row which ended with last year’s 14-15 mark. That didn’t sit well with Mashuda or his returning players.

“I think everybody looks to be successful by winning more than they lose,” he said. “We did that for six years and I think it’s important for us to get that back.”

Chowan will begin their season on the road when they travel to Seton Hill College, a Division II school in Pennsylvania. The tournament will feature both D-II and D-III schools and is one the coach is looking forward to.

“I’m looking forward to getting up there and being a part of a new tournament,” Mashuda said. “I’m also happy that my parents will be able to see my team play for the first time since I’ve been to Chowan since they live within a couple hours drive.”

The Hawks will have their first home contest at 5:30 p.m. November 27 when they welcome Morris College to the Helms Center.