Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good Times for the Bears

By Jason Farhadi

All good things take time, and Mercer Head Coach Susie Gardner knows this better than most.

When she was hired to take over the program in June of 2010, it was a given that it would take a lot of time and hard work to turn things around. Gardner’s first two years at Mercer could be summarized with one word –  rebuilding. Despite winning only eight games during her first two seasons in Macon some positives came to light, as Briana Williams was named the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year in 2011 and became the first player to lead the A-Sun in scoring in back-to-back seasons since Jacksonville State’s Lisa Baswell accomplished the feat over 10 years ago.

Flash forward to the 2012-13 campaign and things didn’t get off to a good start for the Bears. Williams was lost for the season before the team’s first game and Mercer was picked to finish last in the A-Sun Conference Preseason Coaches’ poll.

Mercer shocked all the experts, however, by churning out a 20-12 season for its first 20-win campaign since 1991. The Orange and Black went 13-5 during A-Sun play, setting a new program record for most league wins in a single-season, on its way to a third-place regular season finish.
The Bears captivated the nation from early January to late February when they went on a 12-game winning streak, the longest for the program since the 1984-85 edition of the Bears won 14 consecutive games as a Division II member. Aided by the second-biggest turnaround in the country, based on total wins, Mercer capped off the season by earning the No. 1 seed in the 2013 Women’s Basketball Invitational for its first appearance in a nationally sponsored postseason tournament since 1985.

Several Bears also achieved significant individual achievements under Gardner’s direction during the 2012-13 season. Sophomore Precious Bridges and junior Kendra Grant were both named to the A-Sun All-Conference first team, the first time two Bears have made the first team since Andrea Congreaves and Jaana Sintonen were recognized in 1990-91. Junior point guard Sharnea Boykin also led the A-Sun and ranked fourth in the nation averaging 7.4 assists per game.

Good things do take time and the progress that the women’s basketball program has made as a whole is continuing to carry over into the 2013-14 season. Already this campaign, Mercer has tied the program record for non-conference wins in a season with seven, the most in a single-season since the 1995-96 season.

Mercer is also trying to win the most games over a two-year stretch since the 1990-91 and 1991-92 editions of the Bears won 38 contests in back-to-back seasons. With a group of veteran players on this year’s club and an experienced head coach, Gardner and the Bears are hoping that their time is finally here.

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