By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — The non-conference slate has never offered much resistance for the Northwest Florida State women's program.
But eight games into the campaign, this isn't just winning. This is a whole new level of dominance.
The Raiders began the season with a 106-30 win over Volunteer State. Soon followed wins of 60, 33, 29, 50, 56, 32 and 38 points.
Yep, not a typo. That's an average winning margin of 85-38.
"We feel like we have some players that have bought into our philosophy of being in great shape, playing with great discipline and sharing the ball," first-year head coach Bart Walker said. "Everyone's contributing."
Eight games in, no animosity. No adversity.
Also no way to gauge how much this hot start will translate come January, when the meat of the schedule begins with Panhandle Conference play.
The very same conference that boasts defending champion and top-ranked Gulf Coast State. The very same conference that features fourth-ranked Chipola. Oh, and don't forget seventh-ranked Tallahassee and Pensacola State, whose 10-0 start should lend to a spot in the top 25 come the next ranking.
Road to 8-0
Nov. 3: NWF State 106, Volunteer State 30 at The Arena
Nov. 4: NWF State 89, Snead State 29 at The Arena
Nov. 10: NWF State 76, College of Central Florida 43 in Ocala
Nov. 11: NWF State 87, Miami Dade 58 in Ocala
Nov. 17: NWF State 83, College of Central Florida 33 at The Arena
Nov. 18: NWF State 95, Parkland College 39 at The Arena
Nov. 25: NWF State 64, Roane State 32 in Rome, Ga.
Nov. 26: NWF State 79, Georgia Highlands 41 in Rome, Ga.
As for NWF State, it's currently ranked 15th. And climbing.
At the forefront is NWF State's defense. As it should, Walker a true defensive mind.
The Raiders run a man-to-man set in the half-court, but the opportunistic defense likes to run myriad traps — full court, three-fourths court, half court, anything to create turnovers.
The measure of success rests in the numbers. Or lack thereof.
Foes are shooting 28 percent from the floor, making just four 3-pointers a game and are averaging 20 turnovers a night, Leandra Echi and Angela Jernigan the chief pickpockets of the Raiders with 3.7 and 3.4 swipes a night.
The highest point tally NWF State's given up? 58 points to Miami Dade. Meanwhile their other seven foes haven't topped 44 points.
"Our staple is our defense," said Walker. "We like to make it difficult for opponents to run what they're comfortable in. We run a lot of defensive drills and work on team defense to make sure we're always in the proper spots. Our pregame scouting helps, too. We try to prepare well for the teams we play.
"If they do what we teach them daily, we can tweak anything on the court and adjust to counter whatever opponents bring."
As they say, the best offense is a good defense.
The team's 19 steals a night help feed an efficient offense that loves the transition game and can play inside-out.
The easy looks have lent to a 52-percent team shooting effort, the Raiders only once being held below 50 percent in eight games. That includes a 44-percent clip from beyond the arc en route to nearly 10 3-pointers a night.
"We've been able to shoot the 3 well and expand the floor," Walker said. "We like to play an inside-out game. And when teams are closing in our 3s, we've been working on the shot-fake and developing the mid-range game. It's a lot easier to establish your post game when you're hitting shots on the perimeter."
Controlling the boards to a plus-20 disparity also helps, as does the team averaging 20 assists per game.
The success in so many facets is on the shoulders of many.
Georgia Gayle, a 5-foot-11 freshman guard out of Great Britain, is averaging 15.3 points behind a lights-out shooting effort — 54 percent from the floor, 48 percent from 3 for 3.4 treys a night.
Trinity Baptiste, a 6-2 forward coming off the bench, is averaging 14.8 points on 66 percent shooting, 9.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals. She's stepped up in the absence of center Jaiden McCoy, who's missed four games with a hip flexor injury.
Jade Lewis, a sophomore 6-0 guard, is averaging 14.8 points on 51 percent shooting to pair with 2.4 3s a night at a 38-percent clips.
Of course others are finding ways to fill the stat sheet.
Freshman guard Leandra Echi is a sparkplug off the bench with 5.6 boards, 4.1 assists and 3.8 steals a night. Paired with Baptiste off the bench, the Raiders' depth can run nine deep.
"Leandra creates opportunities on both ends," Walker said. "When she comes in and Trinity comes in, it changes the tempo and adds quickness. She brings a lot of energy off the bench."
Jernigan, meanwhile, is averaging 4.9 assists and 4.6 points running the point and Ashley Lee averages 4.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals
"With this team, we have different people stepping up every night," Walker said. "I've seen teams put their eggs in the basket of one or two players. We could have players average in the 20s, but we'd rather have three or four averaging 15 points and helping in other areas.
"If someone has the hot hand, we'll ride that. We'll take what the defense gives us."
The Raiders take their undefeated record to Jacksonville Friday and Saturday to face Florida State College and Eastern Florida State College in the Juco Shootout. After Monday's matchup at Gadsden State, they return home to The Arena on Dec. 12 to face ASA College at 5:30 p.m.