And there are very few people happier to do so than Cleveland State head coach Dan Lumpkin as he embarks on his 16th season as the leader of the Lady Cougars.
The veteran coach will have nine new faces on his bench this season as he tries to mesh incoming talent with the five returning sophomores for the 2012-13 season.
"Just getting everyone on the practice floor has been a big thing," explained Lumpkin. "Injuries and the flu have hit us hard in the preseason. We are excited about the possibilities for this team. Hopefully, our size and flexibility will help us compete with the perennial powers in our conference.
“We are starting to come together as a team, which takes time, but our five returning players along with the sophomore transfers have blended nicely with our freshman, and we really have a good mix."
Robyn Anthony and Hannah Brown will return to the Cleveland State backcourt and will be counted on to shoulder a lot of the offensive load, Brown from behind the 3-point line and Anthony slashing to the hoop. Freshman Jara Gasper from Loudon High School will most likely start at one of the forward positions along with last season's leading scorer, Chelsea Jones.
"Jara fought through a quad injury and three days after she got back she got a concussion and missed another week and a half," said Lumpkin. "It's just because she goes so hard and that's what I love about her, she plays so hard and I love her intensity level. That's why she is starting, because she has earned it by going so hard in practice.
“She is 100 percent every time she steps on the court. Hopefully that will be contagious. Once Chelsea got back from her knee injury she became one of our most important players last year. She is smart and she is our leader. We count on Hannah and Robin for inside and outside scoring," said Lumpkin.
Former Cleveland High School Lady Raider Ciera Anderson is hopeful she will be healthy enough to be in the starting lineup after transferring from North Alabama. Anderson is battling a knee injury which has limited her time in practice.
"Ciera brings a whole new look to our team. Her athletic ability and presence inside will definitely help us," the coach continued. "If they can stay healthy, I feel that our starting five can really be competitive and they have great potential to do well this year."
Mercedes Owens will come off the bench at the guard position after transferring from Bryan College and is also a high school teammate of Jones at Chattanooga Christian. Shea Nunn and Me'Lisa Martinez will be two returnees who will be counted on to come off the bench, rebound and hit the occasional trey as well. Martinez missed last season with a knee injury. Freshman Shadave Taylor from Morgan County, Ga., will be the backup point guard.
Freshman, Diamond Freeman from Campbell High School in Marietta, Ga., will be counted on heavily in the paint as the 6-footer adjusts to the college game. Carley Fetzer is another 5-11 freshman from Northwest Whitfield in Dalton, Ga., who should be able to help in the paint after she recovers from a broken foot. Jasmine Davis, came to town along with Taylor from Morgan County High school and will be getting back into the swing of things after missing last year with an illness. Tre'Ketta Bonds from Tyner Academy will also be in the mix in the paint.
"We have a lot more height this year than in years past," said Lumpkin. "Diamond is a hard worker, Carly will see more time as she recovers from the foot injury, Jasmine is very quick and has the speed to help us in the press. Tre'Ketta is a good post defender and she has the quickness to guard the guards. I wish everyone had her intensity.
"Our sophomores are feeling the gravity and the seriousness of the season starting and they are wanting to have a great season — and they are doing a good job of letting the freshmen know that it's time to play. We're excited about the possibilities," said their head coach.