After winning just nine games last season, the Appalachian State women's basketball team will take the floor at McKenzie Arena today intent on joining the teams at the top of the Southern Conference.
Appalachian State (14-9, 10-4) has won seven straight games, and the young Mountaineers -- four of their top six players are freshmen -- are improving each week, coach Darcie Vincent said.
"We're playing hard, we're playing enthusiastic and it's like I told them: We've just taken a bite of a cookie. Now do you want the rest of it or don't you?" the second-year coach said. "I think we have that mentality that we want the rest of the cookie, and we've positioned ourselves in a pretty good spot right now."
Today's opponent, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (18-7, 13-3), began the week with a two-game lead in the standings, but that was cut in half Monday with a 62-50 loss at the College of Charleston. With three of their last four games at home, the Lady Mocs would give themselves an excellent shot at an 11th consecutive SoCon title by taking care of business at the Roundhouse.
But being on the road hasn't bothered the Mountaineers a bit. Appalachian State is 3-4 in SoCon games at home and 7-0 on the road.
"I don't understand that," Vincent said. "I guess there's less distractions on the road, and for a young team that's a good thing."
One of Appalachian State's home losses was to UTC on Jan. 9. The Lady Mocs won 60-53 by outscoring the Mountaineers 17-2 in the final five minutes. App State lost again three days later to Samford, another title contender, but hasn't lost since.
A big reason for the Mountaineers' turnaround this season after going 9-22 in 2008-09 has been the play of the four freshmen. None has been more vital than forward Ashlen Dewart, the younger sister of UTC's Bailey Dewart.
The 6-foot-3 Ashlen is averaging 15.1 points per game (fourth-most in the SoCon) and is shooting a league-best 53.6 percent from the floor.
"She worked really hard this summer and I was hoping she'd do well, and obviously she has been," said Bailey, who is redshirting this season because of knee injury. "I'm a little jealous. I wish I could play against her."
Opposing coaches might not feel that way, but they're going to be seeing her for a long time -- much to the delight of Vincent.
"I think Ashlen has very much solidified herself as being one of the top players in this conference for a lot of years," Vincent said. "There's not a team out there right now that can defend her one-on-one. They've got to bring double-teams down and they have to do something different against her, and that's a big thing.
"I think for three years coming, this kid is just going to be feared."