AIKEN — If there’s pressure, Kayla Harris said she’s not feeling it.
The USC Aiken junior forward, a preseason All-American selection, is being looked upon to help the fifth-ranked Lady Pacers reach higher goals than last season’s record-setting campaign.
“I’m just going to let it come to me,” she said. “I’m just going to play my game.”
USC Aiken, a team talked about as a national contender, plays host to Florida Southern at 5:30 today in its season opener. In other women’s action, Augusta State opens its season at 7 tonight at North Greenville, while Paine plays Virginia State at Elizabeth City, N.C., at 7.
The Lady Pacers are a much improved team than three seasons ago when they went 15-13. Coach Mike Brandt added Harris to other pieces of the puzzle like guard Daniela Tarailo. In Harris’ first campaign, USC Aiken went 27-6. Last season, the Lady Pacers posted their best record in school history at 27-4, advancing to the Division II region semifinals after winning the Peach Belt Conference Tournament.
Now, USC Aiken is a co-favorite along with Clayton State to win the conference. But the Lady Pacers are talking of much more.
“I really think this year we really have a solid group,” Harris said. “Everyone is on the same page. We really should be able to accomplish all the goals we have.”
Brandt added: “This year presents a great challenge to improve upon what we did last year. It’s something our players look forward to. Our players are really focused and their mind-set is to keep improving, get farther and hopefully get to the Elite Eight.”
USC Aiken returns eight players, including four starters. Harris (15.9 scoring average, 5.9 rebounds) is expected to lead the way, along with Tarailo, who was the second-best 3-point shooter in the league, averaging 42 percent from the perimeter. The Lady Pacers will have to replace center Hannah DeGraffinreed (13.2 points, 5.2 boards)
“I think we’re all ready to step up,” Tarailo said. “We’ve all grown together and learned to play together. Even though we lost a good amount of our offense and our defense, I think we’re going to come back stronger.”