|Furman's Tierra Hodges averaged 16.2 points and 10.4|
rebounds per game last season. Photo courtesy of Furman
The Furman women's basketball team tips off the 2021-22 season Friday by hosting Presbyterian at 7 p.m. Last year at this time, the Paladins were still six days away from announcing their non-conference schedule for 2020-21 season.
After schedule uncertainties and Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting last year, Furman coach Jackie Carson was excited to have a more normal offseason this year. Carson was even more excited by the news that Tierra Hodges would be returning for her final year of eligibility.
"She was ready to turn pro. We had talked about it. At the end of the season, she said 'Coach, I want to come back and help us win the championship. I know we can do it.' That speaks volumes to the type of person and player she is," Carson said. "You know it's a special player when last year's freshmen class were the ones urging her to come back, including players that play her position. Her leadership has been tremendous."
Hodges made 18 starts as a freshman back in the 2016-17 season before missing all of the following year with a knee injury. She enters Friday's opener with 79 starts in a career in which she's basically done everything for the Paladins.
Last season, Hodges led the SoCon in rebounding (10.4 per game), ranked third in the league in scoring (16.2), third in field goal percentage (46.4), third in free throw percentage (79.8) and sixth in three-point percentage (35.4). She also led the league in minutes played (36.6 per game), had a team-high 32 steals and posted 15 double-doubles in just 25 games.
All this production led to Hodges earning first team All-SoCon accolades for the second consecutive season. She's also made the SoCon's Academic Honor Roll each of the past three seasons. Perhaps her most noteworthy accomplishment last season was her outside shooting ability. Hodges connected on 28-of-79 threes last season. The stunning part of that is the first one she attempted last year was the first attempt of her collegiate career.
"She's transformed her game. That COVID summer where everything kind of shut down actually served her perfectly," Carson said. "All she did was shoot threes, expand her game and work on her form in her driveway at home. She has a weight room at home too and put in work there. I think that gave her a tremendous advantage last year.
"Now people know what she's capable of and we have some weapons around her. People can't key in on just her, so it's going to be a fun year for her."
Hodges enters this season ranked 21st in school history in scoring (1,122 points) and fifth in rebounding (914).
Among those surrounding weapons are sophomores Sydney James and Tate Walters, who each made the SoCon All-Freshman team last season. James earned SoCon Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 9.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game coming off the bench last season. Walters averaged 9.3 points per game and had a team-high 90 assists as she tied for the SoCon lead at 4.3 per game.
In addition to Hodges and Walters, senior Greyson Boone is another returning starter. The former Wade Hampton High standout made 33.7 percent of her 3-pointers last season. Also returning is sophomore Paraskevi Koilia, who was likely well on her way to also making the All-Freshman team before a leg injury ended her season 11 games into it. Koilia was the starting point guard for each of those games and still finished second on the team with 52 assists.
After the pandemic protocols of last season, Carson said this is kind of like Freshman 2.0 for the eight freshmen that were on last season's squad.
"We have eight sophomores and five freshman. It's really like 13 kids that have no idea what it's like to go from eight hours (of basketball) a week to 20 a week, to going to class in person and being around their classmates at the university," Carson said. "They didn't even eat in the dining hall last year. They were almost secluded. All of that plays an important part in the mental health of being a college student-athlete.
"That sophomore group has adjusted well to being great leaders on the court and understanding what we're doing. They're bringing those five freshmen along great."
The Paladins are coming off a year in which they went 11-14, but were 9-1 at Timmons Arena. After a 6-8 mark and fifth-place finish in the Southern Conference last season, Furman is predicted to finish fourth (coaches) and fifth (media) in the SoCon this season.