By MATT YOGUS
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Chris Vozab is 1-0 as a head coach in the Southern Conference tournament.
Considering that her voice was nearly gone after her No. 8 seed Georgia Southern Eagles dispatched No. 9 Western Carolina, 68-51, in the first round of the tournament in Kimmel Arena on Friday, it wasn’t easy.
“I’ll be alright,” Vozab said. “It was an intense atmosphere, for sure. It was back and forth. They were getting to the free-throw line on us. They were breaking us down off the bounce a little bit, and I thought we really got solid on our stance defensively the last few minutes.”
Though the Eagles (8-23) cruised in the end, Western Carolina (7-23) never really went away.
“Our kids came out and were tough mentally and physically,” Vozab said. “I thought we had a lot of poise. Western never gives in, and the game was a lot closer than the score indicates.”
Senior Meredyth Frye went to Asheville with every intention of leaving it all on the floor. She led GSU with 22 points.
“From the time we got up this morning I felt really good about the game,” Frye said. “I was hitting shots during warmups. I hit my first few shots when I was open, which kind of got me into a rhythm.”
For Vozab, it was a good start, but for Frye and GSU, it was sweet revenge. WCU put the Eagles out of the tournament in the first round in 2011 and 2012.
“It feels great after the last three years,” Frye said. “Western’s the one that kicked us out the last two years. We came in here wanting to have no regrets, wanting to make sure we left nothing behind.”
Now that it’s done, the Eagles run into No. 1 Chattanooga (26-3), the clear-cut favorite in the tournament.
All the more reason to play like there’s nothing to lose.
“It doesn’t matter how many times they would win if we played them 50 times. It’s just what happens (on Saturday). The longer we hang around and play our basketball, the more confidence we’ll get.”
The game takes place at noon in Kimmel Arena.
Chattanooga is led by bruising forward Ashlen Dewart, who scores 15.8 points per game and averages seven rebounds.
“We have to rebound,” Frye said about the game against the Mocs. “It’s going to be key for us, and it’s something we’ve struggled with this season.”
Though the Eagles have dealt with their fair share of injuries in the post, Danielle Spencer and Ronnesha Smith combined for 45 minutes in the paint.
“I’m just really happy with the kind of basketball we’re playing right now,” Vozab said. “We want to play our best basketball in March and peak at the right time.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.