HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It was the opening day of practice so good vibes were all around for the University of Southern Mississippi women's basketball team. At the end, though, any joy left was probably lost in the sweat produced during a grueling running session.
Through the fatigue, Golden Eagles head coach Joy Lee-McNelis saw something more.
"I think the greatest thing we saw today was at the end of practice when we had to run some sprint work and some players didn't make it," Lee-McNelis said. "I thought it was a true mark of a team of how they really helped each other out in getting across that finish line. As a coaching staff that's one of the things that you always look for."
The biggest thing the USM coaching staff was looking for Tuesday morning was energy, an element that will be key for a squad boasting mostly guards.
"Number one is the pace," Lee-McNelis said. "Number two is intensity level. That's the two things to focus on today. We've done a lot of work in our two hour segments that we've been able to have so today it was time to apply it into a team setting. We made tons of mistakes today. We really did. But I think that the pace and the intensity level is very critical. And it was very good today. That's something that you take and build on.
"We're going to be a very small team this year but we're a team that's got to play at a very high pace and with a high level of intensity. That's the two things that we're really, really focused on this week, is to get them to understand in a long practice. Those two things are going to be key because that's what's going to be key in a game."
The Golden Eagles have some time before getting live game action in. They will host Mississippi College on November 8 for an exhibition game before opening the regular season on the 13th at home against the University of New Orleans.
"I think that we have some solid leadership this year that has shown thus far," Lee-McNelis added post-practice. "You never know till the times get tough. When it gets tough that's when your real leaders really step forward and hold true to the course. But we've had some really solid vocal leadership and people that have really committed their time not only to improving their game but to help others improve as well."
One of the top returners is 5-foot-7 senior guard Brittanny Dinkins. She finished third on the team a year ago with 11.1 points per outing along with 3.6 assists.
"Go back to small things," Dinkins said of the team's focus. "What we ran for. Like coach said when we were just shooting. Rebounding. Making sure we get a body and we box out. So the little things like that. Lunging and not letting a defender get past us. So the little things, with us being a small team, is very, very important for us to beat teams this year."