NEW YORK - Columbia women's basketball is set to kick off the season this Friday at noon in Levien Gym against Long Island.
Looking to bounce back from a 3-25, 1-15 Ivy League season in 2011-12, the Lions are prepared to gain momentum in returning 13 letterwinners and four starters while being joined by three talented newcomers.
This season's edition of the Columbia women's basketball team will feature a number of players, both experienced and new to the program competing for playing time in the backcourt.
"We have a number of players who can break the defense down off the dribble and create shots for their teammates," said Columbia women's basketball head coach Paul Nixon. "We also have players capable of stepping up and knocking down those shots. There is a lot of depth in the backcourt and competition for playing time at the guard positions has already been fierce in our preseason practices."
Some of Columbia's strongest returners are loading up the backcourt this season, including senior co-captain Brittany Simmons.
Simmons bounced back from an injury in 2010-11 to see action in 18 games, during which she posted a season-high nine points against Vermont in the season opener and again vs. Morgan State.
"Led by Simmons, the attitudes of all the players as they've pushed each other hard in practice has resulted in improved play around the perimeter across the board," stated Nixon.
Junior Taylor Ward is also expected to make an impact in the backcourt after ending the 2012 season as Columbia's third leading scorer, averaging 7.3 points per game. Ward played in 25 games last season while starting in 17 and hit a career-high of 12 points on two occasions.
Simpson earned Honorable Mention All-Ivy recognition following a breakout junior season last year and led Columbia in scoring, averaging 12.6 points per game, including a career-high 26 points against Brown.
Bradford returns as the top rebounder from 2012, as she finished the season with a team-best 6.5 rebounds per game.
Santucci saw action in 23 games in her sophomore season and is ready to make some noise following a strong preseason performance.
"All three players spent the summer here in New York working on improving their games and increasing their overall strength level," said Nixon. "Their work has paid off with much improved play from all three during our preseason practices. There is also a trio of sophomores and one first-year player who will compete for minutes in the frontcourt."
After kicking off the season at home vs. Long Island on November 9, the Lions will head to Vermont on Sunday before returning home to face Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson. Over Thanksgiving break, Columbia will begin a four-game road swing at Morgan State, Army, Bryant and Colgate.
Next, the Lions return home for a pair of games against Iona and Saint Francis, followed by a trip out west for showdowns at Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton. Columbia wraps up non-league play on the road at Lehigh and home vs. Lehigh before beginning the Ivy League slate at Cornell on Saturday, January 19.
"The 2012-2013 schedule features a number of local rivals visiting Levien Gym. We also have a trip to California for two games right after Christmas that will help prepare us for our final two tune-up games before the 14-game Ivy schedule begins in January."