Destiny Mitchell came to East Tennessee State on the heels of an Atlantic Sun Conference three-peat in women’s basketball.
She has twice been an all-conference forward since then, but is still looking for her first championship ring. Now preparing for her senior season, Mitchell is running out of time.
“I’m going to leave with one,” she said Wednesday before practice in the Dome, which qualifies as a bold prediction from the soft-spoken Georgian. “I think this team is capable. We just have to play together, stay disciplined, stay coachable.”
The Lady Bucs weren’t any of those things the last two seasons, and that led to coach Karen Kemp’s exit. Brittney Ezell is now running the program.
The Lady Bucs are coming off back-to-back eight-win campaigns, after going 19-12 when Mitchell was a freshman. She had averaged almost 30 points a game at Randolph Clay High School in Bluffton, Ga., and she burst on the college scene by averaging 14.5 points and 9.0 rebounds. But she suffered a knee injury late in the season, and has since been plagued by minor injuries.
Still, Mitchell carries career averages of 12.5 points and 8.7 rebounds and has been the team’s best player most nights.
“Destiny has that raw athleticism and a nose for the basketball,” said Ezell, the new coach who is trying to rebuild ETSU’s championship aspirations. “We call her a hybrid, because she’s capable of doing so many things. She plays so hard, and we’re trying to put her in situations where she can be at her best.”
The 5-foot-11 Mitchell will quietly lead this team, which appears to have plenty of athleticism to make a run in the Atlantic Sun. She and guard Shawn Randall are the only seniors on the roster.
The atmosphere is more intense with Ezell, the former Belmont coach, running the show.
“I’m seeing a lot of energy, and a lot of wide eyes,” she said. “We do things a little differently, and we’re having to slow down the pace in spots. It’s probably 30 percent offense and 70 percent defense right now. There’s a lot of teaching, and it takes a lot of patience.”
Mitchell senses that major strides will be made this season. She’s counting on it.
“I love the chemistry,” she said. “Everybody is working hard, the intensity is there. It’s team first and then me. Everybody is looking at the big picture, being the A-Sun champs.”
A lot of people were impressed by the Holding Court fundraiser with ESPN’s Jay Bilas on Tuesday night. Count Ezell among them.
She and her staff and players were in the crowd of about 200 that gathered at the Carnegie Hotel to hear all sorts of basketball talk — and lots of other topics, too — covered by a celebrity panel of coaches.
“It was fun,” said Ezell. “Jay was real personable, and all the coaches were great. I don’t think you can put a price on it as far as the program. You want to give people access when you can, and last night was a great example of that. It speaks volumes about coach Bartow and his connections.”
Men’s coach Murry Bartow organized the show, which included Les Robinson, Sonny Smith and Bobby Cremins on site, and Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari and Mark Few on video feeds.
The volleyball team will finally get back on its home court with an active win streak this weekend.
The Bucs have won seven straight matches as they prepare to host Stetson on Friday night, then take on Florida Gulf Coast, the preseason favorite, on Saturday. They have played only one match in Brooks Gym all season, and that was on Sept. 3.
“Being on the road has made us very mentally strong,” senior outside hitter Megan Devine said Wednesday. “We’ve had to play our best game because we know every team is going to give us their best game. We’re definitely ready for some home matches, and we’re really excited to have Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast on our court to start conference. We’re very confident there. Our fans bring great energy, and we feed off of that.”
The Bucs are 11-6 overall and 5-0 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. They are the only conference unbeaten.
Some of the groundwork for the team’s current success was laid in Europe this summer. Devine and teammates Meredith Hardy and Jessica Schafer played in the Global Challenge tournament in Croatia in July.
The team finished second and learned a few lessons along the way.
“There were some really good international players and teams,” said Devine. “It opened our eyes about being smart on court, having different options, speeding the pace of the game. The international game is very fast, and we’re trying to speed up our offense and distribute the ball more here. It’s a carryover from playing in Europe this summer.”
ETSU coach Lindsey Devine was on the USA Volleyball staff at the Global Challenge last year, and she assisted with the girls U19 national team at the world championships in Thailand this summer.
The international experiences, combined with the pride of being defending conference champions, are helping to drive this team.
“We’re on a mission, because we want to repeat and get back to the NCAA tournament,” said Megan Devine. “Last year was exciting, but we have to keep improving.”
Just two matches into the conference season, every men’s soccer team has at least one loss except for ETSU and Florida Gulf Coast.
The teams will get together Friday night at Summers-Taylor Stadium with first place on the line. Match time is 7 o’clock.
The Bucs are 4-3-3 after shutting out North Florida and Mercer last weekend. Senior goalkeeper Ryan Coulter now has 22 shutouts in his career and trails the A-Sun career leader, Jeff Casser, by only one.
Casser played for Florida International from 1992-95.
David Geno, the reigning player of the year in the conference, scored his first goal of the season in the 2-0 victory at Mercer.
Sarah Zadrazil has broken her own school record for assists in a single soccer season.
The sophomore from Austria got her 11th Sunday in a 2-0 victory at Kennesaw State. She had had 10 assists while earning A-Sun freshman-of-the-year honors a year ago.
Zadrazil, who played a couple of World Cup qualifying matches for the Austrian national team last month, also has six goals this season.
The Lady Bucs (6-5-1) play at league-leading Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night.
A meet-and-greet with ETSU coaches is set for Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the Johnson City Mall.
Bartow and Ezell will be on hand from 2-5 p.m., along with football coach Carl Torbush and baseball coach Tony Skole. An ETSU promotional tent will be set up inside the store nearest the entrance to the parking lot.