HANCEVILLE ?A four-day stretch in early March was one of the best in Wallace State women?s basketball history, at the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC)/Region 22 Tournament eight months ago.
The Lady Lions entered the tournament as the North?s No. 3 seed and won four games in as many days, defeating both top seeds and capturing their sixth state championship.
Seeking back-to-back titles this season won?t come nearly as sneaky.
?The conference tournament was the wildest four-game ride that I?ve ever experienced as a basketball coach. There was just a different look in the girls? eyes and a different aura about us. It was one of those situations where we got momentum and confidence and in women?s basketball confidence is a whole lot better than talent sometimes,? said first-year Wallace State coach Ron Burdette. ?Now, we?ve got to get the freshmen and sophomores to understand we are hunted as opposed to the hunter. Opponents are going to circle us on their calendar because you want to knock off the defending state champ. We?ve got to be prepared to play every night, but our main common goal this season is to once again be playing our best basketball the first week of March.?
The Lady Lions open the 2011-12 campaign this week on the road, playing at Northeast Mississippi Community College today and at Motlow State (Tenn.) on Saturday. The home opener is Thursday, Nov. 10 vs. Northeast Mississippi College.
Burdette, 51, inherits the program this season from Larry Slater, who retired in June after 22 seasons, 479 career wins and six state championships.
Burdette is no stranger to Wallace State, working as an assistant under Slater since 2002 and serving as the men?s interim coach during the 2004-05 season.
The talented personnel Burdette has at his disposal should keep the Lady Lions in contention all season.
Anniston native Tacouya Allen, the team?s leading rebounder from last year, returns at forward after garnering ACCC All-Tournament honors last season. The 5-foot-7 sophomore poured in 7.6 points per game and was named to the 2nd-team All-Northern Division team.
Brooklyn Warren is back at point guard after scoring 6.9 ppg and dishing out 55 assists, and Priceville?s Melissa Johnson has earned a starting nod after a strong offseason complemented the quality minutes she provided off the bench last year.
?I?ve been really proud of Tacouya, Brook and Melissa. They?ve taken the freshmen under their wings and helped them get comfortable,? Burdette said. ?All of our sophomores have done a great job from a leadership standpoint. They know what it tastes like to win and want to get back to Kansas because we didn?t play particularly well out there. They feel like they left something to be done in Kansas.?
Rounding out the projected starting lineup are Freed-Hardeman transfer and former Madison Academy star Haley Stewart and 1st-team All-State forward Ashley Nance from Danville.
Stewart was a huge 3-point threat during her high school career, finishing second all-time in Alabama high school history with 137 3-pointers in a season and 429 for a career. She was a member of back-to-back Class 3A runner-up finishes at Madison Academy and part of a NAIA Fab Four run last year at Freed-Hardeman.
At Danville, Nance led the Lady Hawks to the Class 3A state championship game last year, capping her career with more than 1,900 points and 1,200 rebounds.
?Haley Stewart can change the game by spreading the floor and can shoot it. She?s got unlimited range and could shoot it from Madison County,? Burdette said. ?Most freshmen have to experience a lot of failure before they find success, but Ashley Nance has hit the ground running and is going to get a lot better. Ashley?s got it.?
Wallace State?s bench appears deep, highlighted by the return of forward Nisha Walker who was the team?s second-leading scorer last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in mid-February.
?Nisha is almost 100 percent, but I need her more in January, February and March than I do in November and December. We are going to bring Nisha back slowly and make sure she has her feet under her,? Burdette said. ?We?ve also got a lot of role players who are going to feel their way through. Some have already grown under the fire. Once some of our freshmen have that game where it all clicks, they?ll never look back.?
Second-team All-State forward Lauren Harris from Tanner will provide depth off the bench in the frontcourt along with Priceville?s Presley Darling, Morgan Henry of Paul Bryant and Fort Payne?s Taylor Dean.
Sophomore Mallory Ray will spell relief at both guard positions along with Arkia Armstrong, who is the daughter of former NBA point guard and Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Darrell Armstrong.
Other guards on the roster are Holly Pond?s Haley Terry, Abby Isom of Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, Whitney Putman of Huntsville and Ardmore?s Callie Bryant.
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit www.wallacestate.edu
Wallace State Community College
P.O. Box 2000, Hanceville, AL 35077
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