To understand why the sizzling TWU Pioneers are playing so well right now — six straight wins and counting — it’s necessary to go back to early January after a loss at Angelo State that dropped TWU’s mark in the Lone Star Conference to a woeful 1-3.
Seeking something to turn the season around, head coach Beth Jillson turned part-time psychologist to help clear her players’ minds of the building frustration and pressure that she knew was weighing on them. A couple of off-the-court, team-building exercises by the players and staff that week, in hindsight, were seemingly pivotal in getting the Pioneers back on track en route to where they are today — alone in second place in the LSC with three regular-season games remaining.
After that seven-point loss to the Rambelles, Jillson first had everybody in the basketball program list their fears on a piece of paper and then hand them over to her.
“I had them write their fears down and had them give them to me — and I took care of them,” Jillson said. “I took their fears away. I could tell our players were really down. So we talked about playing fearless.”
In another team meeting that week, Jillson pinned a piece of paper to every player’s back and had each of the players go around the room and write a positive, encouraging word about their teammates on their backs.
“Then they got to look at it,” Jillson said. “Now they can hang these up in their lockers and see what their teammates and their coaches think about them. It’s pretty cool to see how much their teammates and their coaches love them.”
During this current winning streak, the Pioneers have won in every way imaginable. Two of the wins were by comfortable margins of 23 and 24 points. Two others were by five points or less. A win over Texas A&M-Kingsville last week came after battling through three overtime periods. And two of the wins have come on the road.
Beginning Thursday with a 7 p.m. home game against Eastern New Mexico, the Pioneers (14-9, 9-4 LSC) will play two of their final three regular-season games at home as they position themselves for the LSC tournament March 5-8.
“There’s a calm confidence about them,” Jillson said. “We have a lot of depth. And now that they’ve played a lot of games together, they understand each other on the court. They’ve done a great job of playing team basketball.
“They’re a special group of young ladies who are getting better every day and are still hungry,” she added. “We know we’re not there yet.”
Kvotun earns LSC honors
For the second time this season, senior center Mary Kvotun has been named the Lone Star Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
The 6-foot-6 post played a key role in two TWU victories last week, which helped propel the Pioneers into second place in the LSC.
In wins over Texas A&M-Kingsville and Angelo State, Kvotun scored a combined 22 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked seven shots.
Kvotun currently leads the LSC in blocked shots this season with 33.
Almost great week
A good week narrowly missed becoming a great week for the gymnastics team last week.
Forced to count a couple of falls on beam in the last rotation in Friday’s dual meet at Illinois-Chicago, the Pioneers let one slip away by less than one point as the hosts scored a 193.175-193.100 victory.
Two days later, in a four-team meet at Northern Illinois, the Pioneers came close to posting a team score of 194.000 or better for just the second time this season when they won their fourth meet title of the season with a score of 193.875.
“The scores have been great, and we’ve had some great wins,” head coach Lisa Bowerman said. “But we still have not hit our peak, without a doubt. We still have more difficulty to put in some of our lineups and we still have a few people who haven’t been competing that should be getting into more lineups.”
Friday’s loss at Illinois-Chicago was certainly disappointing because after the meet’s first three events, the Pioneers were positioned to capture the meet title with a solid performance on beam.
“It was difficult to finish off a good meet with two falls on beam,” Bowerman said.
In Sunday’s competition, TWU not only won the team title but topped a Big 12 opponent in Iowa State, which finished in third place ahead of Wisconsin-Whitewater and behind runner-up Northern Illinois.
“Sunday couldn’t have been more perfect in terms of setting us up for the challenge we needed,” Bowerman said. “We started on beam and it said a lot about our team’s ability to bounce back mentally and physically to come out and get the job done on beam. And we rolled with it the rest of the meet.”
Pioneers well tested
Performing in two meets in three days last week tested the Pioneers, who seemed to handle the compressed scheduling just fine.
“It’s a very unique challenge,” Bowerman said.admitted, whose team narrowly lost a dual meet at Illinois-Chicago on Friday before capturing a quad meet title at Northern Illinois on Sunday.
“It’s not something we’re used to, but most years we have one weekend like that and I think it’s good for them,” she added. “It’s good for them to have to push themselves a little bit beyond what they’re used to — to be able to come out and compete two days later.”
Bowerman said the busy scheduling should also benefit the team later in the season when they usually have to perform on consecutive days at the nationals.
TWU will celebrate it’s past gymnastic athletes when it plays host to Alumni Weekend this Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with the Pioneers’ three-team meet Sunday (2 p.m.) at Kitty Magee Arena.
The Pioneers will have an open house at their practice facility on Saturday afternoon before welcoming the former gymnasts at a reception and dinner that night.
On Sunday, all gymnastics alumni and their guests will receive complimentary admission to the Pioneers’ meet against Midwest Independent Conference opponents Centenary and Southeast Missouri State. The alumni will be introduced between the third and fourth rotations of the meet.
More information about the TWU Gymnastics Alumni Weekend is available by contacting Jeff Bowerman at 940-898-2385 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home opener this weekend
Nationally ranked TWU makes its 2014 home debut Saturday when the Pioneers play host to St. Edward’s in a doubleheader at Pioneer Field. The games are scheduled to start at 3 and 5 p.m.
The Pioneers (12-3) have faced a challenging start to the season with three consecutive weekend tournaments on the road. But TWU collected wins in all five games it played last weekend at the St. Edward’s Invitational and has now won nine of its last 10 games.
TWU has previously faced the Hilltoppers twice this season, winning both games. The Pioneers won 4-2 at the St. Mary’s Division II Classic on the season’s opening weekend and then topped St. Edward’s 6-5 on Sunday in the closing game of the Invitational.
Beginning with Saturday’s doubleheader, the Pioneers and Hilltoppers will face each other four more times this season. The two teams meet in Austin for a doubleheader April 9.
The Pioneers are hitting on all cylinders, both at the plate and in the circle.
At last weekend’s tournament, TWU registered three shutouts led by the pitching of senior Brandie Lander. In a 9-0 run-rule win over Chadron State on Sunday, Lander tossed a two-hit shutout for her fourth complete-game shutout of the season.
Meanwhile, TWU’s bats exploded in an earlier 10-0 run-rule win over Chadron State as freshman Alyssa Galaz crushed her first career grand slam. Junior Samantha Alegria also knocked a two-run homer in the game, while junior Kendra Sancet hit her team-leading sixth homer of the year in a 6-4 win over Regis on Friday.