This time last year, the Tarleton TexAnns were surrounded by question marks.
How good were the seven freshmen on the roster? How would head coach Ronnie Hearne replace Brittnie Haley, who was a medical redshirt, down low? How long would it take for this squad to be considered a 'threat' in the Lone Star Conference?
Well this season, all those questions have been answered, and then some.
The freshmen are back with a year's worth of experience under their belt, including a Lone Star Conference tournament showing, and one of them the reigning LSC South Freshman of the Year.
JoAnne Jones had one full season as the dominant post player and will now be the beneficiary of a healthy Haley playing alongside her down low.
And with West Texas A&M losing four-year starters Courtney Lee and Emily Brister, the TexAnns are in the mix to finish atop the LSC South Division.
“Between us, West Texas A&M, Angelo State and Abilene Christian, it's a wide open conference,” said Hearne. “I think any of those four teams can win it. WT is the favorite because of their tradition and they recruited some good players, but there is no way they'll be as good as what they lost (in Lee and Brister), at least I hope they aren't (as good).”
Shelby Adamson headlines the 'Sophomore Seven' as last season's Freshman of the Year, with Tori Skarke also returning to the starting lineup, replacing last season's lone senior, D'Anna Dingler.
Adamson averaged 10.3 points per contest on 42-percent shooting and led the TexAnns with 59 steals. Skarke averaged just over seven a game and led the team with a 40-percent average from the three-point line.
Haley, the leading scorer and rebounder from the 2007-08 season, is finally able to return to action after major knee surgery ended her season with seven games left in 2008. She missed all of last year.
“I forgot how good she was and how much we missed her,” Hearne said. “She's such a mature player when it comes to decision making, and she's so strong. (Having Haley back) is really going to help JoAnne. She's going to have to get better.”
Without Haley by her side last season, Jones managed to lead the squad with 13.6 points just over seven rebounds per game.
Junior Sonya Sundberg and Jones, a senior, will be the captains of the squad this season. Sundberg is entering her third season as the starting point guard for the TexAnns.
Off-season additions to an already potent TexAnn roster include Jenna Simmel-Harris, Whitney McCorkle and Shedera Bowman.
Simmel-Harris is a 6-0 junior transfer from LSC rival Abilene Christian. She rewrote the Eastland High School record books, becoming the school's all-time leading scorer (2,029) and rebounder (1,146).
McCorkle is a 5-8 freshman guard from Windthorst where she was a four-time all-district selection and a TABC all-region selection in her final two seasons.
Bowman is a 6-0 junior forward from McLennan Community College in Waco. Brown spent one season at MCC following an injury-filled freshman year at Texas-Arlington.
Hearne expects Brown to be an impact player for the TexAnns when she becomes eligible after the start of the season.
“She had problems with a class at MCC, but she's working hard get it fixed,” said Hearne. "Once she gets the grade posted, she'll be eligible to play.”
Hearne hopes Bowman can suit up this weekend.
Tarleton is trying to improve on last season's 16-12 mark and hopefully earn its first post season victory since Hearne's arrival in 2005.
“Our mentality is to take it one game at a time,” said Hearne. “This team has the most talent of any team since I've been here. They have the ingredients to go a long way.”