Anita Howard is enthused and excited about the future of Salem College basketball. With the Spirits having recently completed a record-setting season, the second-year coach envisions more of the same for next season.
Salem, an NCAA Division III all-women’s school, is coming off its best-ever season in school history at 21-5. The Spirits won the regular-season title of the Great South Athletic Conference and followed up by winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA Division III nationals. Salem’s NCAA run was cut short with a first-round loss to Thomas More College (Ky.), the No. 1-ranked team in Division III.
“We wanted to do better in the NCAA, but we did reach our goals to win more games and win our conference,” said Howard. “All season long, we showed poise and dedication and that really came out during our 16-game winning streak. Now they know what it takes to compete, so we just want to build on what we’ve achieved so far. That’s why I’m so excited about what next season will bring.”
On paper, it appears that the Spirits could be in for a year of rebuilding. The team lost four senior starters, which includes two-time GSAC Player of the Year Satavia Taylor (23.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.0 steals) and All-Conference post player Jasmine Shabazz (13 points, 8.3 rebounds).
“Our seniors were instrumental in helping to turn this program around,” Howard said. “They set the standard for us making the change from being one of the worst teams in the conference to being conference champs.”
Howard, however, is confident that the returning cast, combined with a strong recruiting class, can help the Spirits rise to greater heights. Point guard Bria Patterson (10.2 points, 5.4 assists) is back after missing a portion of last season because of personal issues. Patterson’s fortes are speed, quickness and court vision, and she’s proven herself as a lock-down defender.
“Aside from her ability to break defenses down, she’s added an outside jumper, which makes it more difficult for teams to contain her,” said Howard. “She is the heartbeat of the team.”
In the post, Quntashea Lewis, nicknamed “Manimal,” is a 5-foot-10-inch swing player who’s physical enough to make her presence felt on the front line (averaged 8.4 points, 7.1 rebounds).
“She’s a beast in the paint because she’s relentless and plays much bigger than her size,” said Howard.
With Taylor being a departed senior, Shaniqua Collins will be called on to fill the void. Collins established her reputation as an on-the-money perimeter shooter during her time at Clinton Community College (SC). She sat out this past season as a medical redshirt after suffering an ACL tear as a freshman. She’s the niece of Bobby Collins, men’s basketball coach at Winston-Salem State.
“Shaniqua is a big-time scorer,” said Howard. “She has a lot of range from three-point distance.”
Two high school players from the Triad will join the Salem fold for next season. Barbara Robinson of Winston-Salem Prep and Alex Atkins of Mount Airy will compete for playing time, along with several other high school and junior-college prospects who are expected to sign in the coming weeks.
Basketball became a main event at Salem this past season. School administrators and faculty took turns as honorary coaches by sitting on the bench with the team during games. In the regular-season finale on Feb. 5, Susan Pauly, the school’s president, served as honorary coach.
“The support we’ve gotten from our administration has been great,” said Howard. “There’s a new mindset about the basketball program. We talk all the time about competitive greatness, and our players have bought into that totally. As an up-and-coming program, we’re getting more respect as we move forward.”