COLUMBUS, Ohio – The OAC Tournament runner-up Capital University women's basketball teams opens up its season this coming Friday. The game represents the start of its quest for its 11th Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament Championship. The Crusaders enter the season with high expectations after being heavily favored to win the conference according to the OAC Preseason Coaches' Poll.
2014-15 IN REVIEW
Last season, the Crusaders finished with a 17-11 overall record and 11-7 mark in the OAC. After a rough midseason stretch, Capital won eight of its last nine to secure the No. 4 seed in the tournament for the second consecutive season. The Crusaders topped Wilmington College in the quarterfinals, 76-65 and erased an 18-point deficit to eliminate top-seeded Ohio Northern University in the semifinals, 66-54. Capital's impressive run was cut short in a 50-46 heartbreaker to No. 3 Baldwin Wallace.
JEFFERS RETURNS FOR 30TH SEASON
Head Coach Dixie Jeffers enters her 30th season at the helm of the program as she continues to churn out highly-competitive teams on a yearly basis. Jeffers has 661 all-time career wins in her 34-year coaching career. On Jan. 30, the Crusaders defeated Mount Union, 79-69, as Jeffers became the OAC's all-time winningest coach in the men's or women's game. She surpassed legendary Otterbein coach Dick Reynolds who held the title with 653 wins spanning from 1972 to 2012.
Over the last seven seasons, she has led Capital to two OAC regular season championships, two OAC Tournament championships, and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. Jeffers has led Capital to 14 wins or more every season since the 2003-04 season, eclipsing the 20-win mark six times.
The Crusaders return 13 players from a season ago, including four starters in Simonne Gage (Dayton, Ohio), Shelby Sigman (Bellbrook, Ohio), Kristen Thompson (Cincinnati, Ohio), and Nina Napolitano (Akron, Ohio).
Gage has been a high-energy player out of the point guard spot since the day she stepped foot on campus. As a result, she finished with a team-high 67 steals last season, which ranked her third in the OAC. She also finished third in assists (108).
Sigman served as a solid, balanced option off of the bench when Thompson was injured and then played her way into the starting lineup. She finished her junior year with 119 points, 61 rebounds, and 47 field goals. She was also 15-for-20 on her free throw attempts.
Despite injuries, Thompson had her best season as a Crusader, draining 99 field goals, good for second on the team. The forward was also a force on the defensive boards, ranking fifth in the OAC as she averaged just under five defensive rebounds per game. On the season, she pulled down a team-leading 159 rebounds.
Napolitano was a steady source of points for Capital as she leads all returning players with 10.6 points per game. The senior guard finished with a career-high 298 points.
2015-16 REGULAR SEASON OUTLOOK
The Crusaders will hit the road often in its first eight games, travelling on six occasions. This weekend, Capital will begin the 2015-16 campaign in Harrisonburg, Va. where it will compete in the East Mennonite University Tip-Off Classic.
The first game at The Capital Center will take place on Nov. 28 in a showdown with Wittenberg University, a team in which Capital has posted a 7-2 record in its last nine meetings. From there, the Crusaders will begin a four-game stretch in which they face an Ohio Athletic Conference opponent.
On Dec. 5, the Crusaders will be at the University of Mount Union before a rematch of last season's thrilling semi-final game against Ohio Northern. Capital will then play at crosstown rival Otterbein University (12/19) in the first of two meetings.
The annual Marriot Columbus Airport Tournament will be held at The Capital Center and will feature Allegheny College, Calvin College and Misericordia University. Capital plays Misercordia on Dec. 29, with the consolation and championship games being played the following day.
The second half of the season consists of only conference opponents, beginning with games at Baldwin Wallace University and Marietta College. The final stretch of the season could play a part in shaping the OAC Tournament seeding, as Capital will play six of the seven other 2014 tournament participants.
The Crusaders were tabbed favorites to win the OAC in the Preseason Coaches' Poll. Capital received first-place votes from seven of the 10 voting teams, accumulating 79 points in the poll. The Crusaders also earned two votes in the D3hoops.com Top 25 to put them in a pool of 55 nationally-recognized teams.