Chanice Smith can't wait for the 2012-13 women's basketball season start.

Smith, a 5-9 guard, and her fellow seniors forwards Britni Martin and Sequeena Thomas have been key elements in the program's amazing turnaround the last three years.

After an 11-18 record Smith's freshman year, the Bearkat women have posted arguably their two best seasons ever.

In 2011 the Kats rolled up a 17-14 overall record, the Bearkats' first above .500 year since 1996. The team's Southland Conference West Division co-championship was the Bearkats' first title at the NCAA Division I level.

As juniors in 2012, the trio led SHSU to a second consecutive West Division championship. With their 12-4 league record in 2012, the women' achieved their highest seed (third) at the Southland post-season tournament.  The .750 winning percentage in Southland action is the program's highest in 25 years in the league.

The 18-12 overall record equaled the school mark for most victories in one year (tying the 1996 squad). The 35 victories during the past two seasons mark the most in a two-year period for Sam Houston's 30-year history as an NCAA program.

"Obviously, we're looking for even bigger and better things this coming season," Smith said.

The highlight of last year's success was the Sam Houston women's appearance in their first NCAA national post-season event. The Bearkats were one of 16 teams that participated in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI), reaching the semifinals.

"It was a great experience," Smith said. "We've been eager to get this new season started ever since."

The women will start the year with a bang as they participate in the preseason Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).

The big day is Friday, Nov. 9, when Sam Houston opens play against the nationally-ranked Delaware Blue Hens.

Delaware is the favorite to repeat as Colonial champs and make a postseason run with All-American Elena Delle Donne returning for her final season with the starting lineup intact. Delle Donne led the nation last year in scoring, averaging 28.1 points a game for the 31-2 Blue Hens, who finished the season ranked 14th in the country.

"We're so excited about the opportunity to test ourselves against one of the best teams in the country," Smith said. "You can't really measure yourself as a player without going up against the best."

With Smith, Martin and Thomas accounting for 39.6 of Sam Houston's 64.2 points last year, the trio are anxious to take their roles as leaders with the team poised to be a contender for the 2013 Southland Conference championship.

"It's a challenge to be looked upon as a leader, but it's fun as well," Smith said. "This is our senior year so it's are last shot. We want to make it count."

Smith begins her senior year with a career point total of 797 in 82 games as a Bearkat. She ranks No. 17 in SHSU women's basketball career scoring.

Smith came to Sam Houston from Mansfield, Texas, where she was an All-District performer who led Timberview High School to  30 or more victories three years in a row. Her squad reached the Texas Class 4A state finals in only the school's fifth year of basketball her senior year.

"Making it to the state finals was a tremendous thrill," Smith said. "I loved the excitement and the crowd."

Smith did not start out to be a basketball player.

"I come from a baseball family and started out playing softball," Smith said. "But I switched to basketball, playing AAU ball every summer. My dad helped out as a coach and was a big influence for me."

Smith fell in love with Sam Houston State University on her first visit and hasn't doubted her college choice for a second.

"When I first visited the campus, I loved the classroom setting with one-on-one attention from the teachers," Smith said. "I loved the family atmosphere the coaching staff provides. I knew I would be well taken care of here."

A finance major and officer for the Sam Houston Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Smith has been involved in more than just athletics during her four years on campus.

But, beginning next week with the trip to the preseason WNIT, her main focus will be on success on the basketball court.

"This is our year to show what we can do," Smith said. "We can't wait."

The Sam Houston women's basketball team will play a preseason exhibition game Sunday at 3 p.m. against Southwestern University of Georgetown at Johnson Coliseum