After his team's 79-61 loss to North Carolina Central in the NCAA Division II Tournament on Friday night, USC Aiken coach Phil Stern looked ahead to next season.
"These (four) here are four of the better players around," Stern said, referring to juniors Jami Cornwell, Katie Lawrence, Allison Nold and Julie Szabo. "Who wouldn't want them? What we have coming back is probably the best team in the Peach Belt."
The Lady Pacers (22-6) won their first Peach Belt Conference title this season, earned their first postseason bid and were ranked No. 21 before Friday's game.
Eight juniors, including the team's top five scorers, will return next season.
Meanwhile, Augusta State (22-8) and Paine College (17-13) each lost in the first round of the Division II Tourney. Johnson C. Smith defeated the Jaguars, 73-70, Thursday, while the Lions lost to Valdosta State, 62-57, Friday.
Both teams will have some rebuilding to do , but Paine may be in better shape. The Lions, who lose second-leading scorer Colin Jamerson, return leading scorer and Southern Intercollegiate Player of the Year, Yari Scott.
Scott, a junior, averaged an SIAC-best 20 points and 1.77 steals a game. Sophomore guard Vinson Winfrey, who led the SIAC with an assist-turnover ratio of 1.79 a game, will assist Scott in the backcourt next season.
Meanwhile, Augusta State coach Gary Tuell, who has led his team to the postseason for the past two seasons, will lose the heart and soul of the program the past four years. Peach Belt Player of the Year Gary Boodnikoff - the Jaguars' leading scorer - along with forward T.J. Ott and guard Jayme Johnson are leaving. Boodnikoff led the team with a 19.8 scoring average, while Ott scored 11.8 points a game.
"This is the hard part of coaching," Tuell said. "I told our guys in the locker room that we're not crying over a loss. You don't cry over losing basketball games. Cancer and losing people you love, that's something to cry about. But we cry over losing seniors."
Augusta State will return juniors Darrick Broddie, William Gates, Chris Harriman and Letterance McFadden.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 114.