By NATHAN BURAL
E-T Sports Staff
As Tarleton State looks to build on its best women's basketball season since joining NCAA Division II in 1995-96, they will be led by a proven veteran with 86 consecutive starts.
Sonya Sundberg is entering her final season at Tarleton State and has been a mainstay as the TexAnns' floor general since 2007.
“Sonya is the glue that holds this team together,” said Ronnie Hearne, who is entering his eighth season as head coach at Tarleton. “She’s everything you want in a point guard. She couldn’t care less about stats, she just wants what’s best for the team.”
With that mentality, Sundberg has helped the TexAnns to a 56-30 record in her remarkable 86 consecutive starts. That includes a 24-14 mark in LSC South contests.
“I really don’t even think about (the streak of games started) unless someone brings it up,” said Sundberg. “It’s cool, I guess. I feel blessed that I’ve been healthy enough to play and that I have the talent to be a starter for four years."
Starting every game over a four-year stretch is something a Hearne-coached player has never accomplished. The veteran coach says not even future hall of fame candidate Katie Crawford started every game as a freshman.
“When I got here (in 2007), I got lucky because Katie had just left,” said Sundberg. “I got here and started working hard. (Coach Hearne) didn’t actually tell me I was starting until he announced it at a Texan Club luncheon."
“I don’t even remember that,” said Hearne with a laugh. “She has a better memory than I do, but there was never any question if she would start.”
When Tarleton opens its season at home against Texas Wesleyan at 5 p.m. Saturday, Hearne believes his team will have another future hall of fame candidate leading them onto the court.
“If you ask me, I think she should be in the Tarleton Hall of Fame (when her time comes),” said Hearne. “Based on how well our teams have performed with Sonya at point guard and how well she has done, she has certainly done just as well, if not better, than some of those people who are already in the Hall of Fame. I think she deserves it.”
When the 2007-08 season began, the kinesiology major from Keller Central had the difficult task of being a leader on the court while also understanding her status as a freshman.
“I was really nervous because I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me. I had my strategies going into practice. I was going to try my hardest, but not show up any of the upperclassmen,” Sundberg said with a laugh.
As history would play out, Sundberg earned the opening-day starting nod at point guard and never gave it up.
Her freshman season ended when Tarleton fell in the opening round of the Lone Star Conference tournament.
Sundberg's second season was a challenging one.
Starting forward Britney Haley was forced to redshirt after knee surgery and the TexAnns saw a group of seven freshmen enter the scene.
Sundberg was forced to take on a leadership role as a sophomore.
“Leadership came naturally to me because my high school was a new school,” said Sundberg. “We only had a JV and freshman team my first year, so that helped me develop in that leadership role. Plus, being the point guard comes with responsibility.
“It was tough,” she continued. “I was just a sophomore so I was still getting used to Coach Hearne and Coach (Misty) Wilson. It was hard to teach all those freshmen while I was still trying to learn it all myself.”
The TexAnns rallied over the second half of conference play that season, dropping four of their first five LSC South games before winning six of their last seven to return to the LSC Championship tournament.
“That fight we had to endure to get in the tournament really helped us grow as a team,” said Sundberg.
Then came last season with its 23 wins, the most by the TexAnns since joining Division II. Tarleton earned the program's first Division II national ranking, won a LSC tournament game for the first time and received an invitation to play in the South Central regional for only the second time.
“The thought never actually crossed my mind (that we could be the best team in the school's Division II history),” said Sundberg. “I knew what kind of talent we had and that's a credit to our coaches who recruit good girls."
The TexAnns' regional stay was brief this spring. They were eliminated in the opening round by eventual national champ Emporia State. But Sundberg says being in that game will make the TexAnns better.
“The first round loss was heartbreaking,” said Sundberg. “But to know the team that beat us went on to win the national championship is encouraging. Except for the first half, we were able to hang with them. It’s encouraging to know we can perform at that level."
Sundberg is confident Tarleton can build on its recent success.
“This year's team can succeed,” said Sundberg. “We're one of the most talented teams in the region. Kelsey (Benford) has stepped up her game and B.H. (Haley) is back to the old B.H. (after recovering from knee surgery). Kiara Wright hasn't played basketball very long, but once she gets the fundamentals down she'll be a great finisher around the basket.
“We've been working on chemistry since day one,” she added. “We've had a few things come up but we've hit them straight on. I’m already seeing the chemistry grow off the court and it will be interesting to see how it will continue to develop on the court.”