By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Women’s basketball coach Wayne Williams was granted a requested leave of absence Wed-nesday to deal with ongoing health issues within his family. The leave, granted by director of athletics Shanon Hays Wednesday morning, comes with six games remaining on the team’s schedule.
Assistant coach Shawna Lavender will take over as interim coach for the remainder of the season.
Williams’ decision was based on spending more time with his mother, who is battling Alzheimer’s, and his brother, who faces a life-or-death situation in Lubbock.
“I realize this decision comes at a time when our team is in the middle of the conference schedule,” Williams said in a prepared statement, “but my family is my first priority, and that’s where I need to be right now.”
Hays said Williams’ situation had been consuming his time all season long.
“I knew Wayne was under a lot of stress,” Hays said. “He’s been putting a lot of time and effort toward his family, and running a basketball team is more than a full-time job. He chose to take care of his family, and I certainly respect that.”
Williams informed his players of the decision after they had gone through part of their scouting report during a team meeting Wednesday afternoon.
“Needless to say, we’re going through a wide range of emotions right now,” junior center Melanie Carter said during practice later that afternoon. “We’re feeling for Coach; our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
Lavender, who is in her sixth year on the coaching staff, said that despite the somber mood the day produced, the Wildcats (11-12, 2-6) are prepared to focus on the remainder of their schedule.
“Today’s been very emotional,” said Lavender, “but these are the strongest girls I’ve been around. We have six conference games left and we’re definitely still in the hunt of things. We have the capability to get it done.”
“I’m glad Shawna’s there to step in,” Hays said. “I know they respect her just like they do Coach Williams.”
Carter said Williams had words of encouragement to give to the team before he departed Wednesday.
“He said he believes in us wholeheartedly,” she said. “All we can do is stay positive and look forward. That’s what Coach would want right now.”
After playing Texas A&M-Kingsville Thursday evening, the Wildcats will try to keep moving as they take on Texas A&M-Commerce 2 p.m. Satur-day in Moody Coliseum.