By GARY STALLARD
They streamed across the Angelina College campus early on Saturday morning dragging suitcases and carrying pillows and blankets. They looked like any other college students boarding a bus for a field trip.
Except this trip is a little different, and those students aren’t traveling just to bring home souvenir t-shirts.
AC’s Lady Roadrunner basketball team departed Lufkin on their way to Lubbock, where they’ll play as the No. 4 seed in the upcoming NJCAA Division I women’s national basketball tournament set to tip off on Monday. Head coach Byron Coleman was in his office – with packed bags nearby – studying game film as if a student cramming for final exams.
“We’re really just making sure we’ve got everything and we’re not leaving anyone behind,” Coleman laughed. “It’s hard to prepare when you don’t know who you’re playing, but we’re just trying to get everything prepared so when we know our opponent, we’ll be ready ahead of time.”
AC’s ladies won’t play until Wednesday at 1 p.m., but Monday’s first round will determine the Lady Roadrunners’ opponent. Western Nebraska and Hutchinson will play at 6 p.m. on Monday. Arriving early means AC will have a short practice session on the tournament’s floor at the Rip Griffin Center; more importantly, the extra day will allow the coaches and players an early look at their future opponent.
“Oh, no doubt, we’ll be front and center for Monday’s game,” Coleman said. “We’ll be trying to see what they do and how we’ll match up. Like I said, it’s hard not knowing which one we’ll play, but we’ll prepare for both right up until we know for sure who our opponent is going to be.”
A whirlwind week of post-season accolades and post-tournament attention hasn’t taken the team away from its approach. Coleman said the main focus was getting everyone to relax and re-focus – and get a little rest. Thankfully, the distractions didn’t have much effect on the team’s efforts.
“No, I feel like everybody’s locked in,” Coleman said. “We came back in for practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we just had about an hour to shoot around. We didn’t talk much about offense or defense. We just came back in to get our legs back under us. We were beaten up after that conference tournament. We had five or six kids in the training room, and we’ve lost one for this tournament. We have a small roster, so we’ll feel that loss a little.
“We’re just trying to make sure we’re rested and healthy before Wednesday.”
With all the mental and physical preparation taking place this week, the one thing Coleman and assistant coach Randy McKelvey wanted to accomplish was to ensure the players know they have a prime opportunity for an even bigger prize. Becoming the first Angelina College women’s basketball team to qualify for the national tournament has a nice ring to it – but not nearly as nice as the idea of a championship ring.
Coleman said his team needed no reminders at all. They’re on a mission to bring home a national title.
“They’ve had that mindset since we went back to practicing after the conference tournament,” Coleman said. “They’ve had some good workouts, and they understand we’re not finished yet. They won a trophy after the conference tournament, and they know they’ve got a real shot at an even bigger one this week.
“We haven’t had to say much as coaches. The kids have been speaking with their actions, and they’re excited and ready to go.”
The entire tournament will be live streamed from Lubbock Christian University at njcaatv.com. Other tournament information, including brackets, are at njcaa.org.
The e-mail address for AC’s Sports Information Director is firstname.lastname@example.org.