Hanover head coach Molly Jones (above) points out positioning to sophomores Kelsey Block (middle) and Ashley Malloy during practice on Wednesday. Assistant coach John Jones oversees players while they go through ball-handling drills (below). (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Hanover head coach Molly Jones (above) points out positioning to sophomores Kelsey Block (middle) and Ashley Malloy during practice on Wednesday. Assistant coach John Jones oversees players while they go through ball-handling drills (below). (Staff photo by David Campbell)
This year's edition of Hanover College women's basketball team will look much different than those the Panthers have put on the floor in recent seasons.

Gone are all-Heartland Conference centers like Molly Martin and Courtney Prather, who carried the Panthers to conference championships. In their place will be a collection of guards and wings who will attempt to out-run and out-shoot opponents.

It's a change that Molly Jones is not all that upset about. In fact, the veteran coach is looking forward to seeing her new-look Panthers on the floor.

"Even though this is a different group, it's a group that has some grit to it," said Jones. "We've got some speed and some quickness. Not a whole lot of height so that's our biggest difference. But our main focus has been making up for that lack of height by doing a lot of things like make it a full-court game and utilize our speed and quickness."

Hanover opens the 2013-14 season at the Transylvania (Ky.) University Classic in Lexington, Ky., on Friday. The Panthers will face a stiff test right from the start when they take on Maryville (Tenn.), which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.

Prather was part of a group of five seniors who caught fire late last season and ended up winning the HCAC Tournament. It was Hanover's second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.

Prather and the others are now gone and what's left is a young lineup that is as talented as it is small. Elyse Weddle, a 5-foot-10 forward from Bloomfield, is Hanover's only senior and the only true post player with the rest of the lineup consisting of smaller guards.

But those guards possess a ton of talent. The leader is Alicia Hopkins, a 5-foot-6 junior from Columbus East, who was an all-HCAC performer a year ago after averaging 12.8 points per game. Jones is expecting a lot from Hopkins this season.

"I think she's the best player in the conference," Jones said. "We're going to be looking to her to do a lot. Not to put a lot of pressure on her, but she's naturally that way. She's going to be putting all kids of pressure defensively, she can score, she can do it all."

Surrounding Hopkins is a group of untested players whom Jones believes will emerge this season.

Five-foot-six freshman Jessie Davidson comes to Hanover after a stellar prep career at nearby Austin High School and Jones has already tabbed her as one of the best freshmen in the conference. Shauna Watson, a 5-foot-6 junior from Fort Wayne, grew stronger as last season wore on and diminutive 5-foot-2 sophomore Ashley Malloy, from Salem, showed a lot of spunk and tenacity by averaging nearly 4 points a game off the bench last season.

But Jones is also excited to see a few other players who didn't get much of a chance last season. Kelsey Block, a 5-foot-4 sophomore from Madison, transferred into Hanover at midseason and spent the last half of the year catching up to her teammates. Caitlin Bischoff, a 5-foot-10 junior from Atlanta, Ind., spent much of last year injured.

Ashlee Dilley, a 5-foot-3 sophomore from Pittsfield, Ill., will get her first extended time on the floor and freshman Carly Bentz, a 5-foot-2 guard from Brookville, is the younger sister of former Panther standout Chelle Bentz and her aggressive style brings a smile to Jones' face.

"Bischoff is a really good shooter and she was injured most of the year so it will be nice to have her back out there," Jones said. "Kelsey Block came in at Christmas and now she's had a full preseason of conditioning and practice and she's up to speed. Carly might be our smallest player but she doesn't back down from anyone and is fun to watch.

"I'm really interested in seeing what teams will do against us when we go five-wide," Jones said. "We're going to spread the floor and we're going to have a lot of shooters out there. I think we're going to present some real match-up problems for teams."

Of course the Panthers will still have to rebound and that's where Weddle comes in. The senior will be called upon to handle the middle the floor and will get help from a pair of converted guards, 5-foot-7 junior Megan Caudill of Richmond and 5-foot-6 Stephanie Pahren of Metamora.

Despite the lack of height, nearly all of the Panthers have the same thing in common - toughness and quickness.

"This is a tough group. They're physical and strong and they don't back down," Jones said. "And they're all quick. I think we're going to be a handful."

After opening the season at the Transylvania Classic, Hanover faces another tournament at Mount Union (Ohio) next weekend before hitting the road for its first two HCAC games of the season at Franklin and at Anderson. Over Christmas break, the Panthers may get a shot at defending NCAA Division III National Champion DePauw when Hanover heads to Greencastle for the DePauw Tournament.

Hanover plays all of those tough games for a reason. After reaching the NCAA Tournament twice in the past three years, Jones said her players have grown accustomed to playing on the big stage.

"They've been there and I think something like that pushes them even more," Jones said. "They've got that to work for, they've got that to look forward to. They've been there. They know what it takes. And they know they want to get back."




2013-14 Schedule

(Home games in CAPS)

Date Opponent Time

Nov. 15 Maryville (Tenn.)@ 8 p.m.

Nov. 16 Adrian (Mich.) @ 1 p.m.

Nov. 22 Denison (Ohio) # 7 p.m.

Nov. 23 Mt. Union (Ohio)# TBD

or Waynesburg (Pa.)

Dec. 4 at Franklin* 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 7 at Anderson* 2 p.m.

Dec. 14 EARLHAM* 1 p.m.

Dec. 17 CENTRE (Ky.) 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 29 Ithaca (N.Y.)+ 3 p.m.

Dec. 30 DePauw+ TBD

or Alma (Mich.)

Jan. 4 DEFIANCE (Ohio)* 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 TRANSYLVANIA (Ky.)* 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 11 at Bluffton (Ohio)* 1 p.m.

Jan. 15 MT. ST. JOSEPH (Ohio)* 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 18 MANCHESTER* 5 p.m.

Jan. 22 at Rose-Hulman* 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 25 at Defiance (Ohio)* 1 p.m.

Jan. 29 at Mt. St. Joseph (Ohio)* 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 1 BLUFFTON (Ohio)* 2 p.m.

Feb. 5 FRANKLIN* 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 8 at Earlham* 2 p.m.

Feb. 12 ROSE-HULMAN* 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 15 ANDERSON* 2 p.m.

Feb. 19 at Transylvania (Ky.)* 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 22 at Manchester* 1 p.m.

Feb. 28 HCAC Tournament TBA

@-at Transylvania University

#- at Mount Union College

+- at DePauw University

*- Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference game