“You have to play against the game,” said Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis at the start of the season after beating Mississippi Valley State.
Since then, the Lady Eagles have battled against not just the game itself, but found themselves battling the game of life.
From a losing record last season to early losing streaks, to Joye Lee-McNelis’ cancer diagnosis, the team’s success extends from its resilience. The Lady Eagles now enter the conference tournament as the third seed facing their newest challenge: winning the conference tournament and making the NCAA tournament.
The team’s hard work has paid off as the team has earned several accolades. Coach Joye Lee-McNelis was named C-USA Head Coach of the Year, senior Brittanny Dinkins was named Defensive Player of the Year and to the All-Conference Team and Shonte Hailes named to the Freshman team.
As admirable as these accomplishments are, it is hosting a trophy in the air that makes them worth far more.
Although they are not quite the top dog in the conference, there is no question they enter the tournament as the hottest team. Building off of a seven-game win streak and avenging their earlier loss to rival Louisiana Tech has given them the right momentum at the right time.
Yet, one of the biggest advantages is the Lady Eagles’ ability to have at least seven players that can have a 25-point game at any moment. They have numerous players that are not scared to step up when needed or on the whim.
Offensively, the biggest key for the Lady Eagles to win is to average 47.3 percent in field goal shooting. In most games in the season, the Lady Eagles often win at 40 percent or above, yet if they shoot any lower they have suffered their toughest losses.
Defensively, the main concentration is to win the rebound battle and to stay consistent on their steals. The Lady Eagles are currently ranked ninth in the nation in steals, averaging 11.5 per game. The ability to take advantage of these turnovers has been a great boost to the Lady Eagle success, not just their final surge, but throughout the season.
With the offense’s late-season surge combined with a consistently tough defense, the Lady Eagles can beat anyone in the conference bracket. Lastly, the team needs to continue to play in sync the way they have in this final stretch.
The bye in the tournament will no doubt benefit the Lady Eagles with whoever they play. They will play a tired Old Dominion. The Lady Eagles previously beat Old Dominion by 15 points in their only meeting at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Lady Eagles can and should make the Conference Championship game. But, they must continue in the postseason with the same philosophy, which is to play against the game. If they can do that, then they can accomplish their goals.
The Lady Eagles will play Mar. 9 at 9 p.m. against Old Dominion.