Star Staff Reports
BRENTWOOD — In a preseason poll of the league’s head coaches and sports information directors, the University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team has been selected to win the Ohio Valley Conference West Division as announced at the conference’s annual media day last week.
The Skyhawks picked up 22 of 24 first-place votes while wrapping up 132 points in the West. Tennessee Tech is picked to take the East Division, earning 12 first place votes and 119 points.
UT Martin went 11-5 in the OVC and 19-15 overall last year to claim the program’s third straight league tournament title as it defeated Tennessee Tech, 87-80 in double overtime, in the championship game. UT Martin earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season before falling to Notre Dame, 97-64.
This marks the second time in as many years that the Skyhawks have been picked first in the preseason poll.
UT Martin’s Kevin McMillan enters his fifth season at the helm of the Skyhawks and will have three starters among eight returning from last year’s championship team. Among the top returnees is the duo Jasmine Newsome and Heather Butler who both garnered All-OVC honors.
Newsome, a senior guard from Millington Central High School, was selected as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year and All-OVC after leading the league and ranking fifth in the nation with 22.6 points per game. This preseason, Newsome has been named to several prestigious lists. College Sports Madness named Newsome its Mid-Major Preseason Player of the Year, OVC Preseason Player of the Year and an All-Mid Major All-American. Newsome was named the program’s first AP All-American after being named the league’s Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, along with Defensive Player of the Year honors. She set numerous scoring records in the last season’ OVC Tournament with 98 total points, including a tournament-high 41 point performance against Eastern Kentucky.
Butler, a senior guard, was tabbed Preseason All-OVC after becoming UT Martin’s all-time leading scorer with 2,111 points, trailing the all-time OVC mark by just 415 points. This preseason, Butler has joined Newsome on several preseason lists. Butler was named an All-Mid Major All-American by College Sports Madness along with All-OVC first team honors. A Medina native, Butler ranked sixth nationally with 22.4 point per game. Her play reached historic heights last season, setting a pair of NCAA three-point records with 80 consecutive games with a three-point field goal and 34 consecutive games in a single season.
In the West Division, SIU Edwardsville picked up the remaining two first-place votes and 103 points for a second-place predicted finish. Eastern Illinois, last season’s regular season champion, is selected to finish third with 85 points followed by Murray State (68), Southeast Missouri (61) and Austin Peay (42).
Belmont is selected to finish second in the East Division after earning nine first-place votes and 115 points. Eastern Kentucky garnered the three remaining first-place nods and 95 points to be predicted to place third. Rounding out the East Division are Morehead State (66), Tennessee State (65) and Jacksonville State (32).
The 2013-14 campaign kicks off on Nov. 8 when UT Martin plays host to Georgia State in the opening round of the Preseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Conference play starts on Dec. 30 when the Skyhawks travel to Jacksonville State.