CONCORD, N.C. -- Four years of rebuilding has led to this for Winthrop's women's basketball program -- league-wide respect and being picked higher than ever in the Big South Conference's preseason poll released Tuesday.
The Eagles were chosen second behind Liberty.
Winthrop coach Bud Childers has all five starters and 13 players returning from last year's team, which turned in the best season in school history with a 20-12 record.
Liberty has been to the NCAA tournament 12 times in the last 13 years. The Flames are led by 6-3 guard/forward Megan Frazee (18.6 ppg/9.5 rpg last year) who was named preseason player of the year for the third straight year. She is one of the Frazee triplets that all play for the Flames. Moriah, a 6-3 forward, is also on the preseason all-conference team after posting a 13.2 ppg average a year ago. Molly, a 6-2 guard, played in all 32 games last year and averaged 8.3 points per game.
Arguably, the biggest win to date for the Eagles was against Liberty last Feb. 27 at the Winthrop Coliseum. The win ended an 11-year drought and a 25-game losing streak versus the Flames.
Winthrop senior Ashley Fann was named to the preseason all-conference team. The 6-0 forward from Hazel Green, Ala., averaged a career-high 13.7 points to rank third in the conference last year to go along with 6.8 rebounds, 58 assists and 35 steals. She was a first team all-Big South performer last year.
Senior Tiffany Rodd averaged better than 10 points per contest last year as well (11.2). The 3-point specialist from Clinton, Tenn., holds the school's single-season record (37) for 3-pointers made. She is 39 shy of the Big South's all-time career mark.
Fann and Rodd were members of Childers' first recruiting class that included point guard Yvonne van Daalen, small forward Franchesca Davenport and centers Jennifer Walker and Ashley Haugtvedt.
They've come a long way. The 2006-2007 Winthrop team had the distinction of being the youngest team at the NCAA Division I level. This year, they are one of the most experienced, and the expectations have never been higher.
"We know we have a good veteran group returning. They are capable of competing for a conference championship. This returning group has started 90 percent of our games in their time at Winthrop," Childers said. "Fann has been very impressive in the preseason. She is prepared for a good senior season. Rodd is an all-conference-caliber player."
Childers, beginning his fifth year at Winthrop, had a reputation as a program builder when he arrived in Rock Hill for the 2004-2005 season. He brought those six players in, and the rebuilding began.
The 2005-2006 team showed promise right away, finishing 14-15 overall and 7-7 in the conference after going 2-26 and 0-14 the year before.
Fann was named to the second-team all-Big South team, the all-freshman team and all-tournament team as well as BSC freshman of the year. Rodd also made the all-freshman team.
Fann came to Winthrop as a power forward, but Childers needed her to play the post her sophomore season. Undersized, she held her own and averaged 12.2 points a game and 6.5 rebounds. Last year, she moved back to power forward and should get a full season in at her natural position this year.
Fann scored 20 points in a game seven times last year. She became the fourth player in Winthrop history to reach 1,000 career points before her senior season and ranks 36th all-time in Big South history with 1,178 points and 32nd with 625 rebounds.
Childers says forward Shanice Cole's conditioning is unbelievable and calls her the best athlete on the team. Guard Shelly Hankins and point guard Kathi Ryska will be vital components off the bench.
"We have a solid core of nine," Childers said. "If we stay focused on playing one game at a time, we have a chance to have a very good season."
• Preseason poll, all-conference team • 2C