WILBERFORCE — The Central State University women’s basketball team capped off a historic 2016-17 season this past week with a run to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship game in Birmingham, Ala.
“I am extremely proud of my team,” said Central State head coach Sheba Harris. “This group of young ladies solidified themselves as part of the rich history of Central State Lady Marauder basketball.”
While coming up short in the title game by five points to SIAC perennial power Benedict College, the Marauders continue to hold their heads high after reaching new heights as a NCAA Division II program.
After an up and down 3-5 start to the season, the team rallied for 12 straight victories – the program’s longest winning streak since 2005. During the steak, coach Harris achieved her 100th career coaching victory in a 68-63 win over Lane College. The winning streak also propelled CSU to the top of the SIAC West Division standings. On Feb. 18, the Marauders clinched the SIAC West Division title with an 81-58 win over Spring Hill, marking the first time any Central State athletic team has won a regular season conference/divisional title while competing exclusively on the NCAA D-II level.
At the conclusion of the regular season, guard Ghameerah McCullers was selected to the SIAC All-Conference Team after leading her team in scoring and steals. Harris earned SIAC Coach of the Year honors, becoming the first Central State head coach to earn the award from the conference.
Earning a top seed in the SIAC Tournament, the Marauders advanced to their first ever appearance in the SIAC championship with wins over LeMoyne-Owen and Claflin. During their postseason run, McCullers and Mustafa Notter were named to the SIAC All-Tournament team.
Central State finished the season with a 20-8 overall record. It is the first time the program has achieved 20 wins in a single season since the 2007-‘08 campaign. A major factor in CSU’s success was their ability to force turnovers. With their athleticism and quickness, the CSU defense finished the season ranked No. 6 in the nation with 12.9 steals per game.
Rahni Bell, Jasmin Dancy, Zana Godoy and McCullers will graduate this spring with the confidence in knowing that they each played a major role in guiding the Lady Marauder basketball team to a new level of success.
“My seniors have brought so much to this program,” Harris says. “They have helped elevate our program with their work ethic and dedication.”
Nine players are projected to return for the 2017-‘18 season, including starters Sierra Harley, Destinee Russell and Notter. While the Marauders were not selected to compete at the NCAA D-II national tournament, Harris continues to have high expectations for next season.
“We are going to continue to recruit players who can come in and make an immediate impact for us. With the core group of players we have coming back along with a few key additions, I think we will have the necessary talent to take the next step towards winning the SIAC championship and competing on the national stage.”
The Lady Marauders are expected to add depth at all positions throughout the recruiting season with a focus on acquiring size in the frontcourt.
“We have to get more players with the ability to rebound the basketball,” Harris says. “We also plan to add a few more guards to help fill the void left by some of our graduating seniors.”