Close to 40 freshmen a year enter the SEC in hopes of becoming the next star of the women’s college game. Some blend in while other stand out and the most talented youngsters earn the respect of opposing SEC coaches -- and eight of them are voted onto the SEC All-Freshman team.
Over the next three years, those eight usually go on to be major contributors for their teams, many become All-Conference players and the elite players in the bunch are named All-Americans (think SEC greats Tamika Catching, Sylvia Fowels, DeWanna Bonner, A'dia Mathies and many more). So we thought you might like to know more about this year’s fresh faces. And to avoid information overload, we’ll write up four today and four tomorrow.
Sydney Moss, Florida, 5-11 guard/forward
Strong, physical Sydney Moss had an immediate impact for the Gators this season, starting 17 games including ten straight headed into the SEC tournament. The 5-11 wing led her team in assists (3.8), was the second best rebounder for the Gators (6.5) and the teams’ third leading scorer (10.2).
“You can watch her play and it’s pretty evident she’s very talented”, said Florida coach Amanda Butler. “She’s lefthanded but it doesn’t have an impact on which way she is more comfortable going or shooting or finishing.”
Moss, the daughter of NFL wide receiver Randy Moss, helped her team past Arkansas in the first round of the SEC tournament by scoring 13 points, including a critical pair of free throws with 10.6 seconds in the game to help lift her team past Arkansas, 64-59, in the first round of the tournament.
“She’s really got great heart, is learning how to play against this level of competition and what her game has to look like to match that competition and best that competition," said Butler. "I love her -- she’s fantastic.”
The 2012 Gatorade Kentucky Player of the year compiled 2,997 points in high school and now has her sights set on big achievements with the Gators.
“We’ve never won an SEC championship," said Moss. "That is one of my huge goals and just making the players around me better.”
Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina, 5-9 guard
Tiffany Mitchell grew up in Charlotte, N.C., where she had the luxury of watching Dawn Staley play for the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting (until they folded in 2007). Now the Gamecock freshman plays for her role model and has impressed from day one.
“She’s brought a competitiveness and an athletic piece to our team,” says Staley of Mitchell, who won three state championships in high school. “She’s one of the few that can create her own shot. She’s got a lot of upside.”
How competitive is Mitchell? Well, she’s started 25 of 28 games for South Carolina this season and the frosh has led the Gamecocks in scoring seven times and in rebounding six times. She’s averaging 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and is soaking up all the lessons Staley is dishing out.
“She’s a great coach," says Mitchell. "I’m learning something new every day, and that’s all I could ask for. She can take me to the next level and that’s one of the reasons I came here. I’m loving playing for her.”
Lianna Doty, Missouri, 5-7 guard
High achievers get things done - case in point is Missouri’s Lianna Doty: Before Thursday’s first-round game in the SEC tournament, the freshman took a physics test. The mechanical engineering major has a 4.0 GPA and has also started 24 of 28 games for the Tigers, who are newcomers to the SEC. Doty is averaging 6.3 points this season and dished out 146 assists - sixth best in the conference. And of all the freshman we’ve interviewed for this article, Doty was the only one who said making the SEC All-Freshman team was goal she set in the preseason.
At just 5-7, many may look at Doty as undersized for this league, but you can’t measure things like heart and determination.
“I was always really small, but I'm also very competitive and very driven,“ says the St. Louis native. “My mom never let me make excuses. I learned early on, if you want to get to the next level there is no one that can stop you. If you’re not getting the playing time you want, it’s not on anyone else but you. Get in the gym and make yourself better than you ever were before. I know if I give everything I have, I can achieve my goals”
"She’s got a lot of potential and the sky is the limit for her," says coach Robin Pingeton. "She’s a kid that’s very passionate about the game, and she has a tremendous work ethic. She studies the game -- she’s the first and last in the gym, always wants to break down film and I know this offseason is going to be big for her.”
Potential is what the Missouri is all about as the Tigers had 10 freshman and sophomores on the roster, but still managed to get upset wins over Tennessee and South Carolina. For a high achiever like Doty, that was all the more motivation to get back to work.
“There’s a lot of things to learn when you get to this level," she says. "I’ve learned so much this year, and I can’t wait to get back to work over the summer. I have a lot of things to work on and i can’t wait to get better.”
Heather Bowe, Vanderbilt, 6-0 forward
The Commodores were a preseason pick to contend for an SEC championship, but those hopes took a huge hit when junior post Stephanie Holzer went down with a season-ending injury. The unfortunate situation, however, presented an opportunity for freshman Heather Bowe, who began getting significant playing time right away and earned a starting position for the last 11 games.
“I didn’t picture my role ever being this big” said the 2012 Parade All-American. “It was a lot of pressure in the beginning because Stephanie is an All-SEC player and she brought so much to the team. I just had to realize that my game is different (than hers) and what I bring to the table is different. I just wanted to step up and show what I could do.”
The Wisconsin native is averaging 6.4 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Commodores and coach Melanie Balcomb says Bowe earned the playing time because she came into Vandy ahead of schedule.
“Heather is starting because she was ready to perform when we got her. A lot of that has to do with her strength and conditioning,” said Balcomb. “She came in the summer and our strength coach was impressed -- she was way further along than the other freshman and that allowed her to play sooner because the biggest thing between high school and college is the physical play and Heather was prepared for that.”
The Commodores are currently a bubble team, but their first-round SEC tournament win over the Missouri gave them their 20th win and an improved chance at the NCAAs, thanks in part to having an SEC All-Freshman on their squad.