How Coastal is playing for a national title in just two years

From the The Brunswick News

They hail from as far away as Germany and from as close by as downtown Brunswick. The dozen women who don the blue-and-white for the College of Coastal Georgia women's basketball team bring 12 distinct personalities and skill sets to the hardwood.

Together, however, they have jelled under head coach Betsy Harris into a championship-caliber team -- a mere five victories away from a national championship.

Harris and her Coastal Georgia squad are in Frankfort, Ky., awaiting their first-round game Thursday against Cumberland (Tenn.) University in the 32-team NAIA national women's basketball tournament.

The team has reached a national championship tournament in just its second year of NAIA play because, in addition to athletic skills, the players have come together as a team.

"They actually get along well, and it's probably because they are all goofy," Harris said of her squad. "They go out and work hard, but on the other side, they like to have fun.

"Of course, you have your spats. We're like a family, and you have to expect that, especially with 12 different girls on your team. But it's a matter of just dealing with it and going on."

Only four Mariners hail from Georgia -- Glynn Academy graduate Sequoya Aldridge, McIntosh County Academy alumnus Courtney Saunds, Crystal Chaney from Lawrenceville and Olivia Melvin of Statesboro. The balance of the roster has descended on Coastal Georgia from cities and towns in North Carolina, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan, Florida and from Hamburg, Germany, a metropolis of nearly 2 million people in north Germany along the historic river Elbe.

"Janne loves it here," Harris said of Hamburg freshman Janne Tullius. "She goes to the beach all the time, she and the girls. She loves it and fits in perfectly."

Upon her hiring in April 2011, Harris had to scramble to piece together what was the first-ever women's basketball team at Coastal Georgia that took the floor for the first time in November 2011. Through hook and crook, said the coach, she has been able to assemble a solid collection of quality players.

"Some of them I had people tell me about or I called friends in the coaching profession and asked them if they knew about any players who were still available." Harris said.

"When they told me about them, I brought them up on several tryouts throughout the summer and was just able to get a team together. For the new girls that I have this year, basically the same thing. I found Janne through a recruiting service that works with foreign players. The others, I had coaches tell me about or high school or junior college coaches contact me."

Harris says she won't just offer a spot on the team to the most talented players, but to ones she thinks will fit in with her and the college.

"I turned down some better players because I didn't feel comfortable with them. I like to talk to them individually, eye to eye, and if I don't feel like I have a connection with a player, I don't offer them.

The Mariners are one of 14 teams to receive an at-large bid into the tournament after churning out a regular season record of 24-8 that saw them reach the semifinals of the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament.

Harris' team has been a model of consistency and balance, averaging nearly 66 points per game while yielding just 57 with no Mariner averaging more than 12 points per game. Senior post players Crystal Chaney (11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds) and Maria Marshall (10.1, 8.8) have been the statistical leaders, but most every Mariner has played a key role in the team's success.

Coastal will face a team similar in style in first-round opponent Cumberland, out of Lebanon, Tenn., which sports a 30-2 record.

"Cumberland is like us: They don't rely heavily on the three-pointer, and their three leading scorers are their posts players. They are very similar to us."

Harris and her players will spend today watching Southern States champion Lee University (30-2) face LSU-Shreveport (25-5) in the tournament opener at the Frankfort Convention Center, as well as other first-round games.

"I want the girls to feel the atmosphere and see what to expect," Harris said of today's agenda. "I think it will help out tremendously and help out with our nerves."

She says she still is pinching herself that the team has been able to make history in such a short time.

"I didn't expect for it to be like that this year, to come so quickly. I was really just thinking conference tournament and not the national tournament."

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Release Date: 3/13/2013
Source: The Brunswick News

By DAVE JORDAN