Fortner and her staff have to replace four seniors from last season's 30-4 SEC Championship team.
"I think the overall conditioning is excellent," she said after putting the team through wind sprints at the end of Tuesday evening's practice. "Rich Levy and his staff have done a great job getting them ready for practice. We have been able to go real hard for three days now and that is a real testament to what they have been doing in the the weight room."
The Tigers will miss SEC Player of the Year DeWanna Bonner, a four-year starter and a consensus All-American, and fellow All-SEC pick Whitney Boddie as well as seniors Sherrell Hobbs and Trevesha Jackson. Bonner, Boddie and Jackson are playing professional basketball this season in Europe and Bonner was named the WNBA's Sixth Player of the Year last month playing for the Phoenix Mercury.
One of the key players who missed most of last season is back. Jordan Greenleaf, a 6-1 junior forward, injured her ACL early in the season last year and received a medical hardship redshirt.
"Jordan is doing real well," Fortner says. "She is just happy to be back and she is playing hard. It is so great to have her energy and tenacity back on the floor. We missed that last year and it is nice to have it back."
Greenleaf, perhaps Auburn's top defensive player before her injury, averaged 6.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore. "She is not all the way back, but she is close to it," Fortner says.
A player who suffered a knee injury this offseason, sophomore point guard Morgan Jennings, is the only Tiger not able to practice this preseason. "She is rolling along with that rehab," Fortner says. "I am just hoping and hoping she will get back at some point this season."
With Boddie now playing pro ball in Europe and Jennings hurt, the Tigers are looking for immediate help from 5-9 freshman Morgan Toles at the point guard spot.
"Morgan Toles is such a hard worker," Fortner says. "She was in high school and she puts in all of the extra time you dream about players wanting to do. Well, Morgan does that and she was ready to step in and play at that level when she got here. With Morgan Jennings hurt, a lot has been put on her shoulders. She is not afraid of it. She has taken it and run with it."
Nell Fortner talks to Morgan Toles at Auburn's Monday practice.
Fortner says she likes what she is seeing from all four of Auburn's freshmen.
"Blanche Alverson (6-3 forward) has got such phenomenal range," the coach says. "She has a beautiful shot. She is a versatile little player and I am really pleased with her.
"P.J. West (6-8 center) is absolutely making strides every day," Fortner notes. "She wants it. When you are six-foot-eight and can run the floor and you want to be good, I tell you what, she has a chance to be very good.
"With Nicolle Thomas (5-10 guard), people are going to be very surprised at her," Fortner declares. "She is such a strong athlete. Once she gets in shape and figures out how to play this game at this level she is going to be a heck of a player."
The Tigers will open the regular season on Nov. 13th will a home game vs. Troy.