CONWAY – Unfortunately for the Coastal Carolina women’s basketball team, their dream season from last year that included a program best 25-4 overall record and a 15-3 Sun Belt record, which was good enough for second in the conference, was cut short due to COVID-19.
“Last season was incredible,” said head coach Jaida Williams, who was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year last year. “It was something special. I got to talk with (head football) Coach (Jamey) Chadwell throughout the season this year and say just enjoy every moment, because as coaches, they come, they go, they come, they go. Hopefully they come more than they go.”
This season, the Chants have had a total of six games postponed due to COVID-19 issues within their own program and other programs they were scheduled to play.
This has left them with just four games under their belt, and they will take a 3-1 into Mobile, Ala. this weekend when they play against South Alabama Friday and Saturday to finally start Sun Belt play.
However, Coastal Carolina has used that and world events as fuel to the fire this season.
“There’s so much that has happened in our world from COVID, social justice, racial issues, that we’re just excited for the opportunity to compete and represent our university,” Williams said. “This is a very different year. Our why is much different than anything last year.”
With seven newcomers on the team this season, the Chants, who were picked to finish third in the East Division by the conference this preseason, will rely heavily on junior forward Aja Blount, who made the All-Sun Belt second team last season and was a preseason All-Sun Belt first team selection this year.
Blount leads the team in points per game and is tied for first in rebounds averaging eight per game.
“Aja wants to play basketball; she’s an amazing kid, man,” Williams said. “(Her) dad was a basketball coach. Aja’s just willing to compete; she’s stepping into a new role this year which is leadership, and she’s kind of figuring that part of it out as well. She’s trying to figure out how to do her job on the court by being the best that we have night in and night out while making sure everybody else is bringing what they bring to their job … I can’t say enough about her; she has the heart of a Chanticleer.”
Being the leading scorer tends to present heavy opposition from opposing defenses.
“Now being the leading scorer, I just feel like I have a bigger target on my back, which means I have to work even harder,” Blount said. “I have to always be there for my teammates so they can count on me to get points up on the board.”
The Chants will also look to sophomore guard Alanna Denson for production, who is averaging 10.3 points, four boards and 3.8 assists per game. The team will also rely on senior guard Tiarra Davis and junior guard Tyra Brown, who are averaging 8.8 and 8.0 points per game, respectively. Brown is also averaging 3.3 assists per game.
Coastal Carolina will get a lot of help on the glass from the Camp sisters, Janae and Janeen, who are averaging 8.0 and 6.5 boards per contest, respectively.
“Janae Camp has been with me for many a year,” Williams said. “I definitely think that she and her twin sister, Janeen Camp, will be major impacts for our program. I can’t say enough about their work ethic and their ability to contribute on the basketball court.”
Like Williams, Blount is looking on the positive side of the COVID stoppages.
“I think the stops brought us together more as a team, if anything, because we got more practice time and more time to talk with each other, bond with each other and just communicate how we want to do stuff off the floor in quarantine and then executing what we want to do when we get back to practice,” she said.
Despite having little or no fans at games because of COVID-19 protocols, the Chants have made the best of a bad situation.
“It feels like practice, honestly,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, we love our Chanticleer fans. We know that they bring the energy that electrifies (us). It’s something very special and very different to be able to have fans rooting for you. But we get back to truly just playing for the love of the game and that’s what our student athletes are doing now … they’re playing because they love it.”
After everything the team has been through so far this season, the Chants, who haven’t played since Dec. 11, have finally been rewarded with the start of their conference slate.
“Oh, we’re way too excited to start our games,” Blount said. “We’ve been waiting to play since we got hit with COVID earlier in the season, so we just can’t to get out there and play South Al and start conference.”