Health of Lady Devils basketball a big concern

13-player roster down to eight before season starts

slynch@mercedsunstar.comNovember 7, 2012 

Allen Huddleston isn't a superstitious man.

But he can't help but notice the run of bad luck his Merced College women's basketball team has suffered through the last few years.

Injuries have consistently devastated the program, often forcing the Lady Devils to play with a short bench.

The 2012-13 season will apparently be no different.

Before a single ball has been officially tipped, Huddleston's 13-woman roster has already been whittled to eight.

"It's just been injury after injury the last few years," Huddleston said. The severity of most of the injuries is unknown.

"All of them have happened in the last three weeks," said Huddleston.

"The good news is the eight we have are ready to play hard and know what's going to be required of them."

Merced College opens its season tonight when it travels to San Joaquin Delta in Stockton. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m.

One of the bright notes for MC is sophomore guard Kelsey Lemasney, who isn't listed among the walking wounded. Not this year.

Two years removed from knee surgery, the sharp-shooter is finally healthy. Lemasney averaged 5.7 points per game and was second on the team with 26 3-pointers.

A knee tweak slowed her down early, but Lemasney's confidence grew as the season wore on. She averaged 9 points per game down the stretch and drained a school-record seven 3-pointers against Porterville at the end of December.

"She looks good," Huddleston said. "She's put in a lot of time in the offseason getting more consistent with her shot, and it's not just 3s. She's driving and knocking down mid-range jumpers."

Lemasney is one of three returning players from last year's 10-16 team.

Verleah Jones can count herself among those sidelined, but Huddleston is excited about the development of guard Annissa DeLeon.

Those three will be joined by sophomore Madisyn Gafford, who returned to the area from William Jessup, and a group of talented freshmen.

"It sucks for the girls that are hurt, but we're not going to use our small bench as an excuse," Lemasney said. "We've been getting ready to play with eight for awhile. We know we're not going to really be subbed, so we need to be smart with our energy and conditioning.

"But the eight of us that are healthy are ready to go."

Huddleston has particularly high praise for freshman center Sonji Green, believing she will continue the school's run of dominant post players.

The small roster limits some of the things Huddleston wants to do this season, but the last few years have taught him to be flexible.

"I had hoped to really get after it with some of the guards we'd brought in, but that's tough to do with just three bench players," Huddleston said. "We've got the ability, we're just going to need to be smart and going to need to be fit."

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