New-Look Women's Hoops Ready For Season

Renee Ladner

Oct. 26, 2010

Coming off its sixth postseason appearance in the last seven seasons, the 2010-11 Ole Miss women’s basketball team will have a new look this year.

After losing six players to graduation from a team that played in the WNIT a year ago, including All-SEC honoree and leading scorer in the SEC, Bianca Thomas; the third leading scorer on the team, Elizabeth Robertson and Shantell Black, fourth on the team in scoring and second in assists, this season’s squad will feature six returners and eight newcomers.

“Our team has worked extremely hard during the pre-season,” fourth-year head coach Renee Ladner said. “They hold each other accountable in practice each day. We ceased being freshmen in the middle of September. Our conference is tough and they fully understand how critical it is to get better each and every day. From a coaching standpoint, I must be patient, but persistent to get through our growing pains.”

Ole Miss returns just one of its top four scorers from last season and just one of its top
four rebounders. But, the team is confident that this year’s squad will be successful with a
strong core of returners and a talented group of newcomers.

“We are small in number, but big in heart. Only having two players back this season that
have playing experience, Kayla Melson and Nikki Byrd, presents a challenge in itself,” Ladner said. “However, our newcomers are young, but talented. Our returnees are anxious to see playing time. Hopefully, the combination of youth and experience will complement each other nicely.”

Among the top returners is senior guard Kayla Melson. Melson played in 30 games last
season and made 28 starts while averaging 12.2 points per game. She ended the year
second on the team in scoring, led the team in assists (178) and finished the year second on the team in free throws made with 90. She recorded just the third triple-double in program history with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over Southeastern Louisiana.

Melson, who had four games last year with at least 10 assists, finished the year first in the
conference in assists and tenth in the nation in assists per game with 5.9. She also finished in the top of the SEC stats in assist/turnover ratio (first), ninth in steals per game (1.8), and tenth in free throw percentage (73.8).

“Kayla plays with passion, works extremely hard and is our most vocal leader,” Ladner said.

Also returning is junior forward Nikki Byrd who played in all 32 games and made eight
starts last season. She averaged 6.4 points per game. 4.7 rebounds per game and was named SEC Player of the Week last season after averaging a double-double in a pair of SEC games.

Byrd led the team in shooting percentage, shooting 57.7 percent from the field and recorded a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) in Ole Miss’ 102-101 triple overtime win over nationally-ranked LSU.

“Nikki is in the best shape of her life,” Ladner said. “Nikki is serious about her game this year and we are finally seeing that fire.”

The Rebels also have senior Tori Slusher returning this season after missing last season
with an injury. Slusher transferred to Ole Miss from Midland College for her junior season in 2008-09. She averaged 1.7 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per game while playing in 18 games for the Rebels.

Junior LaTosha Laws also returns this season along with sophomore Courtney Marbra.
Laws played in 12 games last season and averaged 2.2 points per game and 1.3 rebounds
per game. She also recorded a career-high 10 points against Winston-Salem State. Marbra
appeared in 21 games and averaged 0.9 points per game and 1.4 rebounds per game. She scored a career-high seven points in a win over Winston-Salem State. Junior Whitney Hameth, who played in 11 games in 2009-10 and averaged 4.4 points per game, will miss the 2010-11 season because of an injury.

“Tori brings a tremendous work ethic to our team. She is coming off an injury and is hungry to play and contribute,” Ladner said. “LaTosha had an incredible off-season. She has worked on her game and will give us much-needed depth at the guard position.”

This year’s roster will feature eight newcomers, which includes three non-scholarship
players. Leading a talented newcomer class is point guard Valencia McFarland who is expected to compete for a starting spot.

The 5 foot 4 inch point guard is a two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year in
Mississippi. McFarland, who hails from Edwards, Miss., ended her prep career ranked
as the 38th-best overall player in the nation by ESPNU HoopGurlz while also being ranked as the 14th best point guard in the country by the same publication. Blue Star Basketball also named McFarland as one of the top players in the country, ranking her No. 29 player.

“Valencia is the epitome of the true point guard and she makes everyone around her
better,” Ladner said. “Valencia is a winner as was evident in winning back-to-back state high school championships. She is only 5-4, but she is big in heart and talent. Her accolades are numerous as she earned Mississippi’s top individual honor, Miss Basketball, and Gatorade Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. I expect Valencia to pick up where she left off in high school, leading Ole Miss to victories and championships.”

Forward Pa’Sonna Hope averaged 12.2 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game
as a senior at Regina High School in Cleveland, Ohio. As a junior, Hope averaged 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks per game.
“Pa’Sonna has a bright future ahead of her,” Ladner said. “She is a raw talent. With her incredible work ethic and desire to improve, she will become a force in our league. Pa’Sonna is always positive and brings high energy. We are so fortunate to have her in our program.”

Other freshmen that are also vying for playing time this season will be Jasmine Trotter, Kenyotta Jenkins and Shae Nelson.

Trotter, who hails from Marion, Ark., was a McDonald’s All-America nominee. As a senior, she averaged 14 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks per game. As a junior, she averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks per game. She also set the school record for most blocks in high school.

Jenkins averaged a double-double throughout high school at Potts Camp High School in
Potts Camp, Miss. As a senior, she averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, five steals and two assists while helping lead her team to a 20-9 record. She averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds as a junior.

Nelson, a freshman from Memphis, Tenn., was ranked the 71st best wing player by ESPNU HoopGurlz.

“Kenyotta is making the transition from a high school forward to an SEC guard. She
is a good mid-range shooter and is getting stronger each day,” Ladner said. “Shae is the
purest shooter on our team. She has an SEC body and will give us depth at the three or four position.”

Three additional players were added after trying out for the team in September. Sophomores Kelsey Nutt (Fordyce, Ark.), Maggie McFerrin (Tupelo, Miss.) and Jasmine Curtis (Jackson, Miss.) will also be a part of the roster this season.

Ole Miss will again play a challenging schedule this season, facing 12 opponents who
played in the postseason last year (seven in the NCAA Tournament and five in the WNIT).

The Rebels will open the year playing their first five games at home including hosting the
Inn at Ole Miss Classic, before heading to Honolulu, Hawaii to play in the Waikiki Beach Marriott Rainbow Wahine Showdown. Ole Miss will take on Gonzaga on Nov. 27 before playing two more games against opponents to be determined.

Ole Miss will travel to South Alabama and Central Michigan in December and will also host Miami, Southeastern Louisiana and Mississippi Valley State University that month. The Rebels will end the month of December playing in the St. Peter’s Holiday Classic in Jersey City, N.J. Ole Miss will open SEC play hosting Vanderbilt on Jan. 2 and will play just three home conference games during the month of January.
The Rebels will host five conference games in February while only playing three on the road.

The SEC Tournament will be held in Nashville, Tenn., March 3-6.

The 2010-11 Ole Miss Women’s Basketball media guide is now available online at:


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