Jackson ushers in new campaign of Charleston women’s basketball

Junior forward Michaela Hopkins leads the Cougars into their second year in the CAA. (Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com.)

Senior center Michaela Hopkins leads the Cougars into their second year in the CAA.
(Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com.)

Much like the men’s team, the College of Charleston women’s basketball team is ushering in a new era led by a first-year head coach.

Duke University assistant coach Candice M. Jackson was named the seventh head coach in Charleston women’s history last April. Jackson replaces Natasha Adair, who compiled a 35-31 record over her two seasons at the College. At just 31 years old, Jackson is not far removed from her days as at Michigan State, where she played four seasons with the Spartans from 2000-04. She was named a captain in both her junior and senior seasons, and was an integral part of the team reaching back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2003 and 2004.

Jackson has risen quickly up the coaching ranks. She got her first coaching position as an assistant for the University of Richmond from 2005-09. She then moved onto Wake Forest, where she took on the added role of recruiting coordinator, working to help sign the program’s first ever top-100 recruit. After two seasons, she was given the same position at Duke, where she helped lead the team to back-to-back elite eight appearances in 2012 and 2013.

“You walk around, you see how friendly the people are and the support system in place and I just knew this was where I wanted to be,” Jackson said. “I don’t think Joe [Hull] had to sell this place one bit. It kind of sells itself.”

Along with Jackson, the College has hired two new assistant coaches Darren Guench and Adria Crawford. Guench joins the College having spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach for UNC Greensboro. Meanwhile, Crawford comes by way of Longwood University in Virginia and is just two years removed from being a four year member of the women’s basketball team at Georgetown University, where she started 80 of 131 career games.

Last year’s Lady Cougars squad finished with an 18-15 record, 9-7 in the conference, which earned them third place in the Colonial Athletic Association.  In the CAA tournament, after defeating Towson in the first round, the Cougars were dropped by Delaware, 60-52, in the semifinals.

Though they missed out on the NCAA tournament, they received a postseason bid in the Women’s Basketball Invitational. They defeated USC Upstate and Northern Kentucky in the first two rounds, before losing to Stephen F. Austin 78-74 in the semifinals.

The Cougars may struggle with consistency at times this year, as the eight players returning from last year accounted for just 43 percent of the Cougars offense, and only five returners averaged more than 10 minutes per game. Charleston’s two leading scorers from last year, Alyssa Frye and Afreyea Tolbert, graduated in May.

The team’s leading returning scorer is senior center Mikaela Hopkins, who posted 8.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Hopkins earned all-conference defensive team honors thanks to her 1.8 blocks per game. She was named to the preseason All-CAA second team during the conference’s media day in October.

Sophmore guard Bre Bolden hopes to improve on her successful freshman year, in which she averaged 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and was named to the CAA all-freshman team. Joining her in the backcourt will be senior sharpshooter Erin Hall, who hit 41 three-pointers a year ago despite playing just 11 minutes a game.

This year’s freshman class features ball-handlers Shiclasia Brown and Shanique Heard, plus McDonald’s All-American team nominee, Zoe Wallis, a six-foot-five inch forward.

Charleston opens their season at Kennesaw State on Friday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. The Cougars came away with a 87-66 victory at TD Arena last year against Kennesaw State.

“It’s exciting. This is something that I’ve been working very hard towards and have been trying to prepare myself to do for a couple of years now,” Jackson said about her coaching debut. “I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to reach out to some people who have mentored me over the years and ask them questions about how to best prepare myself for the moment. They’ve all told me to relax, stay calm, have fun and be in the moment.”

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On a cold January evening in the winter of 2004, Sam Oleksak realized his dream. As a mere fourth grader, he had the chance to announce a high school basketball game for his hometown television station. In the hopes of one day becoming a sports pundit, Sam began at Cisternyard News in Fall 2014. He now serves as the Sports Editor on staff and also makes frequent appearances on Cisternyard Radio.

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