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ETSU's young hoops team somewhat of a mystery

Kelly Hodge • Aug 7, 2013 at 8:28 PM

They’ve been on campus for only a year, but Hunter Harris and Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard qualify as seasoned veterans on the East Tennessee State basketball team.The forwards, who were junior-college transfers a year ago, were the only seniors on the floor for pickup games Wednesday in the Dome. The third scholarship senior on the roster is Lukas Poderis, and he’s currently hobbling on a sprained knee.Harris and Gadsden-Gilliard happened to arrive just in time to be part of the 10-22 team that set a school record for losses last season. And that fact hasn’t been forgotten in the ensuing months.“We talk about it a lot, and maybe it will be a blessing in disguise,” said Gadsden-Gilliard. “We’ve seen what can happen when everybody doesn’t work their hardest and some guys don’t grasp what is being asked of them. Everybody should be motivated to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.”The new group of Bucs is something of a mystery as the summer nears an end. There are two freshmen, two jucos and two players who redshirted last season.But Harris, who averaged 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds as a junior, likes the energy he’s feeling in workouts and pickup games.“I’ve already seen a lot,” he said. “The people we have want to be here, they’re competitive and they want to win. That’s a good place to start with this team.“I can tell you we won’t be going through another 10-win season.”?Of the newcomers, Harris said, “Jalen Riley has caught my eye; he’s a dead shooter. A.J. Merriweather, I like his intensity.”Riley is a 6-foot, 150-pound guard from Racine, Wis., via Sauk Valley Community College in Illinois. Merriweather is a 6-2, 185-pound freshman guard from Jackson South Side High School.There still isn’t much size to speak of with this ETSU team. Just watching the players in the gym Wednesday, there was an obvious lack of height and length.But three months before the season opener, the atmosphere is loose and there are plenty of smiles. The players have been working out and getting to know each other during the second session of summer school.Gadsden-Gilliard, who came in from Roane State at 6-6 and 250 pounds and struggled with injuries and fitness, looks trimmer now and has more bounce in his step.“It just feels good for me to be completely healthy,” he said. “I think this team is going to have a different mindset all around. We have a lot of new guys and some new coaches who have brought fresh ideas.”Harris, meanwhile, couldn’t forget who won the Atlantic Sun Conference championship in March and became the darling of the NCAA tournament.“Seeing Florida Gulf Coast on the ESPYs, that put a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “That’s a team we beat last season.”———The volleyball team begins preseason camp on Friday, but it’s already been an eventful summer for some of the principles.Megan Devine, Meredith Hardy and Jessica Schafer were all part of the U.S. contingent that traveled to Croatia for the European Global Challenge last month. Head coach Lindsey Devine, meanwhile, was an assistant on the U19 team that played in the world championships in Thailand.Both of those teams won silver medals.Hardy, a rising junior from Kingsport, said the international competition was an eye-opening experience.“When you’re playing with new people, a team that has just been thrown together, you have to make adjustments really fast,” she said Wednesday. “But volleyball is volleyball and we all enjoyed it. I think the experience is going to help us during the college season.”The Americans played eight matches in four days, ultimately losing in the finals to Italy.“When you get to the championship game, it hurts to lose,” said Hardy, a 6-2 middle blocker. “But when we were able to step back, we were pleased to get as far as we did.”The team started the trip with a stop in Hungary, and also got a day of sightseeing in Italy on the back end. It was a mixed bag of culture.“Budapest was a big city, and I didn’t expect that,” said Hardy. “Croatia was really laid back, with beautiful beaches. Venice was a tourist trap and lots of shopping.”The ETSU players can now start turning their attention to defending their Atlantic Sun Conference championship.Hardy and Devine, both products of Dobyns-Bennett, are the centerpieces of the team. Devine, a senior, is the league’s reigning MVP.“We’re both considering playing overseas after college,” said Hardy,” so it was great to get a little taste of it this summer.”———The preseason is already under way for women’s soccer at ETSU. Coach Adam Sayers got his team together early Wednesday morning.Sayers figures to have a contender in his third season at ETSU, but he has to replace the nation’s leading scorer of a year ago. Ramey Kerns scored 21 goals as a junior, then graduated early.The Lady Bucs finished with a 12-6 record and were 6-3 in the conference.“We have a strong core of last year’s team back,” said Sayers. “The midfield group is all returning, and they were very important in Ramey’s success.”Asked if he tried talking Kerns, who is now looking toward career goals – not those with nets – into coming back for another year of soccer, the coach laughed.“She’s following a path she set out several years ago, in exercise science, and she’s very focused,” he said. “She’ll be very successful in whatever she does. We wish her well.”The Lady Bucs still have one of the league’s top returning players in midfielder Sarah Zadrazil. The sophomore from Austria tied the school record for assists last season, with 10, and played on her country’s national team in the spring.Zadrazil now has an Austrian connection, with the signing of freshman Simona Koren. She’s another player with international experience.“She’s a very good striker, and I want to see her link up with Sarah,” said Sayers, adding that he hopes Zadrazil won’t have to alter her game much without Kerns around. “We have structure within the team and the system we play, but Sarah is a very intelligent player who can make decisions very quickly. She will still have that creative element that was integral to our team last year.”The Lady Bucs’ play their first exhibition at Radford next Tuesday night, then host Lees-McRae on Aug. 19. They open the season Aug. 23 at Appalachian State.

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