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Basketball preview: OVC champ first on women’s schedule

After a year at the helm of the women’s basketball team, head coach Brittney Ezell says she’s finally comfortable in her position.

That comfort will be a relative term this year as the Bruins open their schedule on the road against Tennessee-Martin, last season’s Ohio Valley Conference champion, and then head to the home courts of major conference teams like Memphis and Auburn.

They will then open their home schedule against Big Ten member Indiana.

The Bruins finish the pre-conference run Nov. 29 against the Florida Gators, who made it to the third round of the WNIT in March.

After taking on that SEC opponent, they will open their final season of Atlantic Sun play Dec. 1 against Kennesaw State.

“We’re just thrilled to have a great schedule that we think our fans will appreciate — especially with our home opener against Indiana,” Ezell said.

Two days after practice began, Ezell said she was already pleased with the efforts of this year’s squad.

“If you asked the kids, they’ll tell you this is the fastest thing they’ve ever done. We have really pushed tempo with this group because they have been the most conditioned group I’ve ever had to start the season,” she said.

Along with last season’s mantra of being relentless, Ezell wants the team to rally behind the phrase “Build it.”

“We’re trying to build something that’s sustainable longer than a season. I think the kids have bought into the idea of building a legacy, so the ‘Build it’ mantra seems to fit.”

This year, Bruins’ fans should expect to see a fast-paced game. Ezell plans to have her players putting forth a maximum effort for a minimal amount of time, rotating often.

“You come to Nashville with these big dreams, and the majority of people that come to Nashville are going to have to be an opening act for somebody,” she said. “Right now, we’re the opening act for Coach Byrd.

“We’re a great opening act, and I hope people get there early to see the entire show. We’re building to a point where we are going to be a headliner with them, and I think that’s relatable for a lot of Belmont students.”

Position Breakdowns

Post: Senior Haley Nelson will lead the position after being unanimously named to the all-Atlantic Sun conference team. Much of Nelson’s help in the paint will come from fellow senior Shai Wilkins, who is healthy again this season after recovering from an ACL injury last year.

“We’re so deep,” Ezell said. “We’re challenging them to be the hardest working post group in the conference. If you had to poll the conference right now, I would definitely have to say ours are.”

Adding to the depth at post will be senior Tristan Daniel, junior Alyssa Visbeen and freshman Blair Bryce.

Guard: Seniors Cacy Burtnett and Crystal Kesler will lead the guards this year along with sophomore Molly Ernst, who was named to the Atlantic-Sun all freshman team last season.

The Bruins will also see sophomore Julianne Downs and junior transfer Katie Brooks take a larger role, Ezell said. The 2011-2012 season marks the first season freshmen Katie Carroll, Amara Mayers, and Adrienne Tarrence will see time as guards.

“We’ve got a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism, and a lot of kids that can shoot it like Molly Ernst and Cacy Burtnett,” Ezell said.

The Bruins’ first game will be Nov. 11 at Tennessee-Martin.

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