Tarleton State may be the bottom seed from the South Division of the Lone Star Conference, but don’t be surprised when the TexAnns show an air of confidence in tonight’s LSC Championship quarterfinal against North champ Central Oklahoma.
That’s because the TexAnns know they are playing their best basketball at the right time, and after recent victories over Angelo State and Abilene Christian at home and Texas A&M-Kingsville on the road, they are confident they can match up with anyone in Bartlesville, Okla.
“We’re definitely playing the best we have all season and the best we have as a program in a long time,” said sixth-year Tarleton head coach Ronnie Hearne, who picked up his 100th win with the TexAnns in their decisive 73-52 rout of Angelo State on Saturday. “I know other teams have gotten better as the year has gone on, but I think you would be hardpressed to find anyone who has improved as much as we have.”
That’s good, because at 8:30 p.m. tonight at Bruin Field House, Tarleton faces a Lady Bronco team that has defeated the TexAnns the last three times they’ve met.
All those games have been close, with the average margin being just four points. That includes a 67-64 UCO victory in Edmond, Okla. in crossover play this season.
“Looking at the film from that game, I can see where we’ve improved so much in a lot of different areas,” said Hearne. “We didn’t play very well at all that night, especially defensively.”
Tarleton’s lone senior, four-year letterman D’Anna Dingler, says the TexAnns aren’t afraid of UCO.
“Obviously they’re a very good team, and we respect them and are preparing extra hard for them,” says Dingler. “We think we can match up with them pretty well. The main thing is stopping Lizzy Brenner.”
Brenner leads three double-figure scorers for the Lady Bronchos at 14.3 points per game, and is far and away their best rebounder at 8.5 boards per night.
Like Hearne, Dingler feels the TexAnns are a much different team than the one that lost by three to the Bronchos in December.
“We’ve gotten so much better since then,” she says. “We have a lot of freshmen who are stepping up and playing a lot better now. As the season’s gone on, we’ve become more experienced. Now we’ve won six of our last seven games, and that’s definitely how you want it to be entering the tournament.”
Six true freshmen are averaging more than seven minutes per game for Tarleton, led by Shelby Adamson, who averages 10.6 points per game on the year. She was good for 13.1 points per night during South play.
“Going from high school basketball to college ball is almost always a big jump,” said Hearne, “but for Shelby there was no transition period. She won a 5A state championship at Rockwall last year, and she’s played a lot of AAU ball. She showed up ready to play.”
Tori Skarke, another freshman, averages 7.5 points.
“The youth coming around has definitely played a big part for us,”?said Hearne. “I think all the freshmen are getting comfortable and are playing big roles for us.”
Returning lettermen have been key as well, as junior JoAnne Jones leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 13.4 points and 7.0 boards. Sophomore guard Sonya Sundberg scored 10.4 points during league action.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Sonya is only a sophomore because she’s a returning starter,” said Hearne. “She’s really improved in every aspect of the game, especially in her leadership on the floor. JoAnne’s a player who has been steadily improving since her freshman year and is playing really well right now.”
Jones enters the tournament on the heels of back-to-back doubles.
As much as everyone around her has stepped up, Hearne still says it all begins and ends with Dingler.
“She’s our only senior,” he says, “and I think it’s pretty clear all her teammates have a very high opinion of her. Sometimes I look out on the court and I believe they’re playing better because they want to win for D’Anna.”
The TexAnns won a big one for Dingler and themselves on Saturday just to get to the tournament. Now, the senior says her team is more focused than ever before.
“We’re studying film harder and working to be more prepared than we’ve ever been,” she says. “It’s going to be tough, but we’ll definitely be ready.”