November 4, 2023 

2023-24 Southern Conference preview

Returners to watch, new transfers and coaching moves

After an offseason riddled with high-profile losses to the transfer portal and graduation, the 2023-24 Southern Conference season gets underway in a few days with plenty of fresh faces. The coaches and the media were split on the preseason favorite: The coaches tabbed East Tennessee State, while the media picked Chattanooga.

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Here is a look at how each of the conference’s eight teams stack up this season. You can also use the links below to skip to specific teams.

Chattanooga | East Tennessee State | Furman | Mercer | Samford | University of North Carolina at Greensboro | Western Carolina | Wofford


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Chattanooga

Head coach: Shawn Poppie enters his second season. The Mocs finished 20-13 (9-5 in conference play) last season and won the Southern Conference Tournament.

Players to watch: Chattanooga received high praise with forward Raven Thompson and guard Jada Guinn both landing on the Preseason All-Southern Conference Team. Thompson, last year’s SoCon Freshman of the Year, averaged 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Guinn, a graduate transfer from Tennessee Tech, shot 57.4% from the field last season.

Season opener: Chattanooga begins its season against King University on Nov. 6.

East Tennessee State University

Head coach: In her first year at the helm, Brenda Mock Brown led the NCAA’s largest turnaround, helping the Buccaneers improve their record from 6-22 to a program-best 25-10. She also earned SoCon Coach of the Year honors. This month, she was named to the preseason watch list for the 2024 Kathy Delaney-Smith Mid-Major Coach of the Year Award.

Players to watch: ETSU was picked to finish first by conference coaches and second by the media. Guards Nevaeh Brown and Kendall Folley earned Preseason All-Southern Conference honors. Brown enters her second season at ETSU after averaging 10.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game last season. Folley earned a spot on the All-SoCon Defensive Team and averaged 11.1 points per game.

Season opener: The Buccaneers open the season against Kentucky on Nov. 7.

Furman

Head coach: After 10 years with the Paladins, Pierre Curtis was promoted to head coach on June 9. As an assistant coach and associate head coach, he helped develop 19 All-SoCon performers. 

Players to watch: Furman has three returning starters in guard Jaelyn Acker, guard/forward Sydney James and forward Jada Session. Guard Tate Walters, who was named to the Preseason All-Southern Conference Team, will also return from injury. Before her injury, she was averaging 12.9 points per game, led the league with 137 assists and ranked second in 3-point percentage at 37.3%. Guard Niveya Henley will also return from injury this season.

Season opener: Furman kicks off its season against UNC Asheville on Nov. 7.


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Mercer

Head coach: Susie Gardner is no stranger to winning. She has amassed 231 wins at Mercer, making her the winningest coach in program history. She has led the Bears to 20-plus wins in six of the last nine seasons.

Players to watch: Although last season’s conference record was just above .500 at 8-6, the Bears still had a chance to win behind leading scorer Amoria Neal-Tysor and SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Summah Evans.

This season, guard Enjulina Gonzalez looks to build on her stellar freshman season. Named to the Preseason All-Southern Conference Team, Gonzalez averaged 10.2 points per game while shooting 51.2% from the field.

Season opener: Mercer meets Western Kentucky on Nov. 6.

Samford

Head coach: Carley Kuhns has been the head coach since 2019 and is looking forward to how this season’s opponents “will give us the ability … to compete at a high level and prepare [us] for conference play.” That schedule includes nonconference games against Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky, all in December.

Players to watch: Guard Masyn Marchbanks, who averaged 9.7 points and 3.2 assists per game last season, earned a spot on the preseason all-conference team.

Season opener: Samford hosts Auburn University at Montgomery, a Division II program, on Nov. 6.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Head coach: Trina Patterson enters her eighth year at UNCG after posting a 16-14 record last season and making the SoCon semifinals. She moves forward with a combination of returning players and new gems from the transfer portal.

Players to watch: Junior guard/forward Isys Grady earned preseason all-conference honors after notching four double-doubles and averaging 8.5 points per game last season. Junior guard Jayde Gamble comes in from UNC Wilmington. She can work both ends of the ball, averaging 11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game last season.

Senior forward Khalis Cain also returns after a junior season in which she led the team in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds and blocks.

Season opener: UNCG goes on the road to face Appalachian State on Nov. 6.

Western Carolina University

Head coach: Since head coach Kiley Hill was hired in 2019, his teams have improved their win totals incrementally, from five in his first year to nine last season. In his first season, the Catamounts also set a program record for 3-pointers made.

Players to watch: Guard Mya Love enters her senior season as a preseason all-conference honoree. She had 18 double-doubles last season while ranking second on the team in points scored (309) and field goals made (112).

Graduate forward Lonasia Brewer joins the Catamounts from Toledo, where she averaged 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game last season. Junior guard Jada Burton joins the squad from Dodge City Community College. She averaged 10.5 points per game last season and shot 44.9% from the field and 38.3% from behind the arc.

Season opener: Western Carolina faces Division III Agnes Scott College on Nov. 6.

Wofford

Head coach: Jimmy Garrity returns after leading Wofford to its first regular-season SoCon championship in 2023. The team will look to continue to rise after posting a 22-10 overall record (10-4 in conference).

Players to watch: Junior guard Rachael Rose is the Preseason SoCon Player of the Year after averaging 17.2 points per game on 51.3% shooting from the field last season. Senior guard Helen Matthews also returns and will help on both sides of the ball. She averaged 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game last season.

Season opener: Wofford will be tested right away with a game at Wake Forest on Nov. 6.

Written by Caylen Johnson

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