The exhibition contest will be the 2009-2010 season debut for a team that must replace four key seniors from last year's squad that won the SEC regular season championship and posted a 30-4 mark. The Tigers open the season with just nine healthy players with guards Reneisha Hobbs and Morgan Jennings out of action with knee injuries that could keep them out the entire season.
The Tigers will need strong play from freshman guards Morgan Toles and Nicolle Thomas plus freshman 6-3 guard/forward Blanche Alverson and 6-8 freshman center PJ. West. Toles is five-foot-nine and Thomas is 5-10.
"The freshmen are doing great," Fortner tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "They seem to be way ahead of the learning curve. They might be the smartest group of freshmen we have brought in. They learn quickly and their basketball fundamentals are very good. They were already ahead of the game so I feel like we didn't start from scratch with them."
Fortner talks to Morgan Toles in practice.
Toles, a highly regarded newcomer from Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga., is expected to start at point guard this season. "I am very pleased with Morgan Toles and what she has brought to this team," Fortner says. "She is just a tough competitor and is so fundamentally sound and smart."
The Tigers return junior guard Alli Smalley and another player with starting experience, 6-1 junior forward Jordan Greenleaf, who received a medical redshirt last year after going down with a knee injury early in the season.
Alli Smalley is a two-year starter for the Tigers.
"We are nine strong," Fortner says of her injury-depleted roster. "They are all going to play and they know it. It keeps them all focused and engaged."
Commenting on what she hopes to see in the exhibition game, Auburn's coach says, "With it being our first game of the season, the thing I am looking for is our conditioning, how we are there.
"I will be looking to see how we can execute defensively and see if we are doing the things we work on every day. Is the rotation effective when we change people out? It is just a little bit of everything. I have four freshmen who are going to get a lot of playing time and we want to see how they respond to a real game situation."
Fortner notes that despite having just nine players the Tigers will continue to play with an up-tempo style."It is what these kids are and it is why we recruited them," she says. "There will be times we will slow it down a little bit when Keke is in the game."
Fortner says all four of the freshmen should see plenty of playing time. "They will get some tremendous experience this year, something that is really going to work in our favor for the future, and I?think this team has got a shot at doing something special this year if they keep working as hard as they are and progressing like they are."