By Brian Roe, Sports Writer
The women’s basketball team’s incredible 2004 campaign abruptly ended March 5 with a heart-breaking 66-65 loss to Northeastern State, which scored six unanswered points in the final two minutes to end the playoff game and the season for ACU.
ACU shot out of the locker room jazzed to play an upbeat game; however, much to the disappointment of the team, the Wildcats hit more flat notes than big shots.
“We couldn’t get anything going,” said sophomore guard Ashley King, “and we weren’t really ready to play at all. I mean defense, rebounding, shooting, none of it was flowing. We came out extremely flat.”
ACU battled back throughout the game and finally took the lead with made free throws by freshman guard Kristal Robe-son to put the Wildcats up 57-56.
Senior center Melanie Carter scored at the 2:20 mark to stretch the lead to 65-60 for ACU. But the Wildcats failed to put up a single point in the final two minutes of the game.
“Instead of trying to build on the lead, we tried to protect it,” King said. “I mean we didn’t score in the last two minutes, and we just couldn’t build on that lead.”
King missed a three-pointer with 29 seconds left in the game, and the Lady Reds worked the clock, hit a jump shot with four seconds remaining and sealed ACU’s fate at the cursed score of 66-65.
The Wildcats then fumbled the inbounds play and a frantic three-point shot by senior center Lynsie Blau was denied by the rim, along with the dream of playing for the Lone Star Conference Champion-ship and a chance to advance to NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship.
The season ended for the entire ACU squad, but the game also ended the college careers of seniors Leah Wilson, Jenny Jackson, Jackie Vinson, Carter and Blau.
“What can I say? I don’t even want to think about losing these seniors but it’s just a part of the game,” said head coach Shawna Lavender. “I know they played hard and played with heart all season and we would not have been this successful without them.”
The younger players seeking to fill the leadership roles said lessons were certainly learned from the seniors and from the experiences of this season.
“One thing I learned this year is that you can’t take this for granted,” King said. “You have to cherish every day when you are practicing, lifting weights or running because college only lasts for a short time.”
Sophomore guard Kierstan Barbee echoed King’s sentiments.
“I think I learned that you just never know when it’s going to be your last game especially for the seniors,” Barbee said. “I learned a lot about teamwork and about playing for your teammates.”
ACU’s final game may have ended dismally, but it could not overshadow the incredible season played by the 2003-2004 Wildcat-team.
ACU, predicted to be near the bottom of the LSC South Division by pre-season polls, proved critics wrong by playing fundamentally sound basketball all season and finishing the regular season with 18 wins, 9 losses and a superior 10-4 record in the LSC South Division.
Lavender completed her first full season and helped ACU reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season. She earned both the respect of counterparts and the allegiance of her players.
“Oh my gosh she means everything to this team,” Barbee said. “We would not have gotten anywhere without her. We really confide in her and when she took over she just changed the way we played and the things demanded of us.”
King said this may have been Lavender’s first season but she predicts Lavender will have success at ACU for a long time.
“This was her first season but she did an amazing job with this team,” King said. “She is an awesome lady and I think she’ll be one of the best coaches in ACU history.”