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Changing of the guard

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Changing of the guard

Photo by Justin Perry

Photo by Justin Perry

Photo by Justin Perry

Photo by Justin Perry

Chris Warner

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Experience is huge in collegiate sports, and for Appalachian State women’s basketball, it’s going to be up to returning junior guard Joi Jones to show just how much experience she has.

Jones returns for her third year as the Mountaineers leading returning scorer and in year two of head coach Angel Elderkin’s system.  With seniors Katie Mallow and Mariah Sydnor, the team’s leading scorers from 2014-15, having graduated, it’s easy to see why some expectation has been placed on Jones to lead this year’s Mountaineer team.

And so far in this young NCAA season, Jones has embraced the responsibility to lead and improve without hesitation.

“Last year she was a scoring point guard and she could break anyone down off the dribble. In the offseason she has worked extremely hard at reading the second defender and being able now to get her teammates involved,” Elderkin said. “She’s really, really grown as a player in a short period of time.”

Aside from working to become a more versatile offensive weapon for App State, Elderkin has also seen Jones improve physically over the course of year one and two.

“Joi plays really hard and so she gets fatigued quickly, and there were games last season where she had to come out and sub, and we weren’t as efficient,” Elderkin said. “I really challenged her in the offseason to get into the best possible shape she could and also be a better point guard, and she has really embraced that role.”

Jones has a lot of responsibility ahead of her for the season.  Last year, she averaged 8.5 points per game while dishing out 2.5 assists.  As the point guard, Jones’ responsibility is to be the floor general, communicating responsibilities and plays calls with her teammates to put them in a better position to succeed.Despite solid numbers last season, Elderkin believes an expanded role, with more playing time, will only allow Jones’ to increase her totals from last season.

“I think expectations for her are to see an increase in minutes and assist to turnover ratio,” Elderkin said. “I challenged her to put in the extra time to be able to be that player who goes 30 minutes with 12 points and six to seven assists.”

Elderkin hasn’t been the only one around the facilities taking notice of Jones’ improvements. Jones’ teammates, including fellow junior guard Bria Carter, have seen stark improvement in her ability to motivate and communicate with others, while also lauding her ability.

“Joi is a really hard worker,” Carter said. “On the court she’s a slasher and knows how to get to the basket. She has a really good off-the-ball screen jumper, so she’s a pretty versatile point guard.”

And as for the expanded role and new expectations, the all-Sun Belt preseason third team guard is taking it in stride.

“I’m willing to do whatever my team needs to be successful.  As the point guard, you’re pretty much the coach on the floor,” Jones said.

Part of that will be adjusting to the team’s new approach, which will focus primarily on pressuring on the defensive side of the ball to facilitate their offense, she said.

The other part will be continuing to increase her versatility on the offensive end of the floor, specifically by improving her jump shot, something she said was a big focus of hers during the offseason.

If Jones can produce as Elderkin and her teammates expect, then the Mountaineer are in a great position to prove the preseason Sun Belt rankings wrong, as the team was voted to finish eighth in the conference by Sun Belt coaches, ahead of only UL Monroe and South Alabama.

Jones and the Mountaineers (0-2) will take the floor against ETSU Thursday, looking to capture their first win of the early 2015-16 season. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Story by: Cameron Vaughn, Sports Reporter 

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Changing of the guard