Gillespie and the Reinhardt men were picked to finish second when the AAC’s preseason coaches’ polls were released Thursday, while Huffman and the women’s team were picked to finish sixth in the 10-team conference.
For Huffman, her team’s preseason ranking came as a pleasant surprise.
“I think that we are pretty fortunate to get that ranking, to be honest,” Huffman, a former Etowah High School star now in her first stint as a head coach, said Monday. “With me being new and not knowing a lot about the teams in our conference, it’s nice to see that they think we’ll be in the mix.”
Gillespie said the second-place ranking came as a shock.
“You’ve got me. I can’t say why we were ranked second. It’s probably based on what we’ve done in the last few years,” said Gillespie, who takes over a team that finished second in the ACC last year. “Other than Tennessee Wesleyan being the clear favorite, the rest of the teams in the conference are question marks.”
With the men’s team returning only one starter from last season — sophomore forward Luke Joseph — it isn’t hard to see where Gillespie’s skepticism concerning the preseason poll comes from.
“Our top five scorers from last year graduated,” said Gillespie, who came to Reinhardt after serving as the head coach at Cincinnati Christian University in Ohio, along with a short tenure at Reinhardt’s AAC rival, Virginia Intermont. “We don’t even have an average of 20 points per game returning from last season. Our guys will have to step it up and play bigger roles than they have in the past, especially the five players that are returning.”
Along with Joseph, Reinhardt will see the return of junior guard Larricus Thomas, sophomore guard Xavier Mayfield, junior guard Tanner Reno and sophomore guard Ira Hughley.
Notable newcomers include Wayne Swint, a junior college transfer from Atlanta Metropolitan State College; Carlton Shumake, who followed Gillespie from Cincinnati Christian; and Quinton Wood, who was redshirted during the 2011-12 season.
Duncan Jones, a former Creekview High School standout who earned a scholarship after making the team through an open tryout, will sit out this season as a redshirt.
Unlike the men’s team, the Reinhardt women will see a mix of returning veterans and newcomers for the upcoming season.
Among the returners for the Lady Eagles are senior guard Kayla Aiken — a Woodstock High School product who averaged 5.7 points per game last season — sophomore guard Kareen Abling (8.0 ppg) and senior guard Sarah Hewitt.
Two other former local high school stars — Creekview’s Kristian Graham and Cherokee’s Lauren Mullinax — are now at Reinhardt as well, joining a group of newcomers that also includes junior center Taylor Johnson, junior forward Ieisha Williams and senior guard Tara Hay.
Though Huffman, a former assistant coach at North Georgia College and State University, an NCAA Division II program in Dahlonega, expects to find her first year as a head coach a difficult one, she feels that she is up to the task.
“We have a tough road ahead, and a lot of scrapping to do, but I’m pleased with that,” Huffman said. “We are in a tough conference, so it’ll be a challenge. But challenge is always a good thing.”
Huffman and the Lady Eagles will open their season against Auburn-Montgomery on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Brown Athletic Center.
Gillespie and the Eagles will begin their season three days later against Southern Wesleyan at the Point University Classic in West Point.