By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Shortly after coaching her team to an 86-73 upset victory over Midwestern State on Saturday night in a fitting regular season finale, interim head women’s basketball coach Shawna Lavender sat down for dinner at Outback Steakhouse with her husband Mark and assistant coach Jason Osuna.
And why shouldn’t she? After all, Lavender had stepped in for the departed Wayne Williams with six games remaining on the team’s schedule, and won five of them. That streak, topped off with the MSU win, all but guaranteed the Wildcats a spot in the Lone Star Conference Post-Season Tournament. All that had to happen was for LSC champion Angelo State to knock off Texas Woman’s in San Angelo later that evening, which seemed inevitable considering the Rambelles held a 15-point halftime lead over the Pioneers when Lavender was ordering her appetizer.
“[Manager of news and athletics media relations] Lance Fleming kept calling us with score updates and Jason was listening to the game on the radio,” Lavender said. “The next thing we knew, it was a one-point game, and then TWU ended up winning. Needless to say, the food was not that great after that.”
When Angelo State’s Esponosha Gilliam missed the second of two free throws with three seconds to play, Texas Woman’s stole a 76-75 win from the Rambelles-and the fourth and final playoff spot from ACU. Though the Wildcats and Pioneers finished tied for fourth in the LSC South at 7-7, TWU’s two regular season victories over ACU in their two meetings gave it the playoff nod.
“We were very excited because we had just won a huge game,” junior forward Jackie Vinson said of a game in which the Cats built an early 3-2 lead and never surrendered it. “When we found out we were all very upset and disappointed.
“I really ha-ven’t ever experienced anything like that,” she said. “We were sure we were going to the playoffs. I’m almost in a state of shock. I feel like I should be at practice right now and not sitting here talking about that game.”
For seniors on the team, the postseason snub was more difficult to take.
“It was nice to go out on a win like we did,” senior guard Jodi Hellums said, “but it was hurtful because we were starting to play so well. I believe in my heart we would’ve won the conference tournament.”
To ensure that the players didn’t finish their season with a bitter taste in their mouths, Lavender and Osuna called a team meeting Sunday to talk about the season.
“We wanted the girls to go out on a positive note rather than a negative one,” Lavender said. “After the meeting we got some things resolved and had people leaving positively.”
The conclusion of the season came as an almost fitting cap to an emotional rollercoaster season, which saw Williams leave mid-season to deal with health problems in his family.
“It was such an emotional year,” Lavender said. “It was one of the most draining seasons we’ve had. But because of it, we’ve all become strong-er people and we’ve learned a lot more about each other and ourselves than when we started.”
A big part of this is because of Lavender’s leadership, Vinson said.
“She did a wonderful job for us and she did it so gracefully,” Vinson said. “She kept her head on straight and kept us going through a hard time like that.”
With the exception of the three seniors who won’t return for next season, Lavender said the team is ready to start building for next season.
“I’ve seen a new life in these girls,” she said. “I saw three of them in the weight room Monday morning. They’re excited and ready to do whatever it takes next year.”
But will the pain from Saturday still linger?
“After spring break we start the offseason,” Vinson said. “We can’t sit and dwell on how the season ended, but that doesn’t mean the sting won’t be there.”
The women’s basketball team ends its season with a 16-13 overall record and a 7-7 fourth place mark in the LSC South.