Redemption is underway for the men’s and women’s basketball teams as they play their home openers to start the 2019-20 season this week. The Lumberjacks will play LeTourneau University at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday and against North Carolina Central University at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Ladyjacks will play Alcorn State at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
The Ladyjacks played the University of Tulsa on Tuesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to begin their slate of non-conference games. SFA finished first in the Southland Conference last season with a 16-2 conference record. In the conference tournament, the Ladyjacks lost to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 58-56. They also played one game in the 2019 Postseason WNIT with a 60-54 loss to UT Arlington. The Ladyjacks were voted to finish second in the Southland Conference Preseason Poll.
SFA returns eight players this year, including sisters Aiyana and Aaliyah Johnson. Aiyana is a sophomore who plays forward/ center and saw minutes in 30 games last season, averaging 15.4 minutes per game. Aaliya, a junior who plays center, played in all 32 games last season, averaging 4.2 points per game.
Also returning for the Ladyjacks is sophomore Stephanie Visscher who, last season, was named to the Southland Conference All- Defensive Team. She played in all 32 games, averaged 7.8 points per game, ranked third in the team for points, rebounds and blocks, and led the team in steals. In August, Visscher played for the U20 Swedish National Team at the FIBA Women’s U20 European Championship.
Sophomore guard Brianna Mitchell stepped in for junior guard Marissa Banfield toward the end of the season because of an injury. Mitchell played all 32 games and started in seven, averaging 3.3 points per game. Banfield played in 27 games last season and started in 25 of those games. She averaged 5.8 points per game with a .414 field goal percentage.
The Ladyjacks signed three freshmen and two transfers to the roster. One of those transfers is junior forward Mariia Semenichenko, a native of Dnipro, Ukraine, from the ASA College of Miami. In Miami, Semenichenko averaged 7.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. She played for the U18 Ukrainian Women’s National Team and competed in the U18 Women’s European Championship.
It was an unpredictable season for the Lumberjacks as starters were injured and changes had to be made. After finishing in the ninth seed last season with a 7-11 conference record and a missed opportunity to play in the conference tournament, the team was voted to finish fourth for the upcoming season in the Southland Preseason Poll.
During his senior year at SFA, forward TJ Holyfield did not play any games because of an injury. Holyfield was a starter for the Jacks since his freshman year and averaged 12.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks during his junior year. Because he still had one year of eligibility, he transferred to play for the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
The Lumberjacks signed five freshmen and seven transfers, and they have four returning players added to the roster. The returning players are senior guard Kevon Harris, senior guard John Comeaux, sophomore guard Oddyst Walker and senior forward Nathan Bain. Bain is questionable to play this season as he recovers from surgery.
A transfer picked up from Kilgore College is junior forward Demiere Brown who played in 31 games and started in 30. Brown averaged 13.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. He was also named to NJCAA All- Region 14 Second Team. The Lumberjacks also picked up freshman forward Sama’zha Hart from Dallas who played at L.G. Pinkston High School. In his senior and junior year, he was named to the First Team All-Region and First Team All-District in his junior year.
The Jacks also hired assistant coach Mitch Vanya who was the head video coordinator for the Houston Rockets and was an assistant coach for their summer league. He also worked for the Texas A&M men’s basketball program as a graduate assistant and head manager.
Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN+, Saturday’s games will be broadcast on ESPN3 and all games can be heard on Q107.7.