BLUEFIELD — There weren’t many complaints about playing time last season from the Bluefield State Lady Blues.

“It was tough,” Bluefield State sophomore Rachel Ellis said.

“We were tired,” added Bluefield State senior Laila Shareef, with a laugh.

No wonder. With just six players to start the season, and just eight when it came to an end, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to sit on the bench.

“It was hard, it was really hard,” said Ellis, who fought through asthma to average nearly 30 minutes a game. “We were there for each other and it made us a lot closer.

“This year I think we have a lot of team chemistry, I think we’ll do good.”

The good news is the roster includes 12 players, including five returnees that combined to score nearly 27 points a game for the Lady Blues.

They’ve been joined by seven newcomers, including five freshmen, a junior walk-on and a sophomore transfer.

“I think we’re going to have a successful season,” said Shareef, who hails from Denver. “We have a lot of hard workers and a lot of more numbers so we should be able to pull off more wins this year.”

Neither Shareef or Ellis are used to losing. Bluefield State finished 7-21 last season, that following a 3-3 start. Not surprisingly, the Blues were picked to finish 15th out of 16 teams in the WVIAC.

“We are underrated and that is always good,” Ellis said. “Nobody thinks we’re going to be good.”

Except for the Blues themselves.

“We are very excited,” said Ellis, whose Blues will host Bluefield College next Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot more people this year and we’ve all been working real hard.”

Shareef felt the sting of the losses. A senior from Denver, Shareef arrived at Bluefield State last year after two years at Western Nebraska Community College.

“It’s a great school, we went to nationals both years,” said the 5-foot-7 Shareef, the leading returning scorer at 9.5 points a game. “Last year was a rough season because we didn’t have numbers.

“I wasn’t really used to losing, but this year we’ve got numbers so it should be a whole different deal.”

Elis is also from a winning program at Wyoming East. Ellis started 25 games last season, averaging 4.2 points a contest.

“It was hard, in high school we went to states every single year,” Ellis said.

“Every year we got beat by the same champs. It’s hard coming in and losing every game...We weren’t used to losing that much.”

Three other returnees have joined Ellis and Shareef, including Adizatou Maiga — from Mail, Africa — Christina Smyre and Charise Watts.

They’ll all have to step up their games to replace leading scorers Jennetta Smith, Shamatee Mitchell and Hyshea Branche, all of whom have graduated.

Both returnees are hoping that the Blues can do more on the floor this season. With the lack of numbers, it was often hard to even run plays.

“We work hard, defensively we’re a lot better and we run plays now,” Ellis said.

Shareef added. “You couldn’t do much of that last year because everybody was always tired, and people were having to fill in other positions that they’re not used to playing.”

The newcomers are talented, led by former Montcalm star Eva Grose. The Blues have players from six states, along with Maiga from Africa and Swedish import Natalie Nordstrom.

“We’ve got Eva in the post, and we don’t have too many posts,” Shareef said. “She has done really good, she has stepped up a lot.”

Shareef arrived at Bluefield State after corresponding with Lady Blues’ coach Gary Brown through video and e-mails. She’s glad to be in Bluefield.

“I came down here and I’ve been here ever since,” she said. “It’s all right, it’s not home, but it’s all right.”

While Ellis was encouraged to attend Bluefield State by her brother and BSC student Amy Brewer, there are other parts of the college game that took a while to get used to.

“Coach Brown is a lot different than my coach was in high school, he’s a lot more strict and we have a lot longer practices,” said Ellis, who just returned to the team about three weeks ago because of treatment for asthma. “It’s like an hour and a half to like three hours and that’s a big difference.

“It’s close to home for me though. I can go home whenever I want and the money is here and my major is here so it just worked out for me.”

Bluefield State is still small in terms of height, having no player standing more than 5-foot-9, but they hope to make up for lack of size by running the floor. There are other intentions too.

“We want to be the No. 1 defensive team in the conference, but it’s going to be hard because we’re small,” Ellis said.

“Defense and hard work, and rebounding,” added Shareef. “We’ve got to send everybody to the boards this year.”

The Lady Blues hope that formula leads to more wins.

“Hopefully we’ll do a lot better than last year,” Shareef said. “I feel like we’re a lot better this year already.

“We’re underrated and we’re coming to play.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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