MACON, Ga. - The Mercer women's basketball team and head coach Susie Gardner released its 2012-13 season schedule on Wednesday afternoon, featuring contests against schools from the Big East, ACC and SEC.
VIEW: Mercer Women's 2012-2013 Basketball Schedule
The Bears 2012-13 slate features 14 home games and six contests against teams that participated in post-season play (either NCAA Tournament or WNIT) a year ago.
"I think there is always an excitement when a new year begins and our players definitely feel it just as we do as coaches," Gardner said. "We had eight first-year players last year and to me an athlete changes the most between their freshman and sophomore year. We can tell already that they have more confidence and that they know what is expected from them moving forward."
The Orange and Black open their season as part of Homecoming Weekend, welcoming Division II member Brevard College to Hawkins Arena at the University Center on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m.
After a road contest at Troy on Nov. 14 and a home tilt against Jacksonville State on Nov. 17, Mercer travels to South Bend, Indiana to take on the 2012 NCAA Tournament runner-up Notre Dame on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. Notre Dame finished last season with a 35-4 overall record and return two starters from last year's squad, including All-American guard Skylar Diggins.
After leaving Indiana, Mercer travels to Furman on Nov. 24 and hosts Davidson on Nov. 28 before a looming rematch with in-state power Georgia on Dec. 4. The Bulldogs were 22-9 overall in 2012 and return four starters from a team that made their 18th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament last season.
"Anytime the average fan picks up our schedule obviously the Notre Dame, Georgia and Florida State games stand out the most," Gardner said. "At the same time, you look at schools like Davidson and High Point, from similar mid-major conferences, and it makes for a very competitive non-conference schedule."
Following road games at Georgia Southern and ACC member Florida State that bookend a home date against Alabama State on Dec. 16, Mercer concludes its non-conference schedule with a home tilt against High Point on Dec. 21. Quite possibly the highlight of the 2011-12 season for Mercer came in the form of a 75-67 win at High Point, who went 20-13 overall and was selected to the WNIT.
"Coach Wierzba is in charge of our scheduling and we work together to schedule games that will challenge our players and give us different looks," Garnder said. "You want teams that will press you, teams that will zone you, teams with shooters and teams that have athleticism and I think we have combined all those styles to make this a very challenging group of non-conference games."
The Bears open competition in the new-look Atlantic Sun Conference with a daunting home doubleheader against Stetson on Dec. 31 and FGCU on Jan. 2. Stetson finished 2012 with a school record 23 wins and a berth in the WNIT, while FGCU made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance last season after winning the 2012 A-Sun Conference Championship.
Other highlights on the Orange and Black's conference slate include a three-game home stand from Feb. 2-11, featuring games against in-state rival Kennesaw State and the River City duo of Jacksonville and UNF.
Mercer has the advantage of once again hosting the 2012 Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball Championship for the fourth and final time beginning on March 6.
"One of the biggest draws for me coming to Mercer two years ago was when President Underwood expressed to me his desire to host the conference tournament at Mercer and to keep it here," Gardner said. "Our goal this year is to be one of the top eight teams in our league and to participate in our conference tournament. For our program to grow and take that next step our players need to experience playing in a pressure packed postseason tournament and I think we have a great shot to do that this season."
The Bears do have plenty of talent returning to Macon this winter, with all five starters and 99 percent of their scoring back in the fold for the upcoming 2012-13 season.
Mercer also released the men's 2012-2013 schedule for the upcoming basketball season.