Talk about an opening week — the TWU Pioneers basketball team experienced it all in just the season’s first three outings. There was the thrill of a buzzer-beating, game-winning basket in the season opener, then a 17-point blowout win followed by a disheartening 24-point defeat.
All things considered, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that head coach Beth Jillson gave her team Monday off from practice following the emotional three-game debut last week.
TWU opened the 2012-13 season with a 60-59 victory at Ouachita Baptist, thanks to the composure of Taylor Swift, who grabbed an offensive rebound and connected on the game’s final basket in the last seconds of regulation.
Then this past weekend, the Pioneers enjoyed their home debut with a 73-56 rout of Texas A&M-International in the opening round of the Marriott Champions Circle Pioneer Premiere, in which TWU shot a blistering 50 percent from the floor.
Less than 24 hours later, though, Central Oklahoma brought the Pioneers back down to earth by forcing TWU into 24 turnovers and steamrolling to an easy 59-35 win.
“I saw a lot of improvement from our first game to the game against International,” Jillson said. “We shot the ball better, made our free throws and took care of the ball. In the second game [against Central Oklahoma], they did a good job of pressuring us and we couldn’t handle it.
“We took a step back and made a lot of turnovers. It exposed one of our weaknesses early and now we can focus on it in practice and get better at protecting the ball.”
One of TWU’s highlights from last weekend’s four-team tournament was the play of sophomore guard Toree Mason, one of one three returning letter winners from last year’s team.
Mason sparked TWU’s win over International with a 12-point, seven-rebound performance and then poured in a team-leading 16 points in the loss to Central Oklahoma.
“She did a great job for us,” Jillson said. “She’s a fearless competitor. She stepped up her play big this weekend.”
The Pioneers return to the road this week to play in the Colorado Christian Tournament on Friday and Saturday. TWU faces Colorado Christian at 5 p.m. Friday followed by a game against Northwest Missouri State at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Mason out indefinitely
Junior forward Amanda Mason, a 5-foot-11 transfer forward from Tulsa, will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering an injury last Sunday in the Pioneers’ loss to Central Oklahoma.
Mason reportedly suffered a head injury after hitting the floor in a collision during the 59-35 loss.
She averaged 5.7 points for the Pioneers in their first three games.
Pioneers to conduct clinic
The Pioneers will conduct a free youth basketball clinic in Kitty Magee Arena on Saturday, Dec. 1, immediately following the 2 p.m. home game against Tarleton State.
The clinic will be open to boys and girls in eighth grade and below and will last approximately one hour. Registration for the clinic will take place on the day of the clinic in the arena lobby. All clinic participants must have a registration form/liability waiver completed by a parent or guardian. All clinic participants will also receive a free TWU Pioneers basketball and free admission to the game (general admission game tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for youth and senior citizens).
TWU head basketball coach Beth Jillson will provide the instruction at this clinic, with assistance from her coaching staff and players.
Season to remember
Although the Pioneers were ousted in the semifinals of last week’s Lone Star Conference tournament and learned Monday that they wouldn’t receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the 2012 season will go down as one head coach Shelly Barberee won’t soon forget.
“It’s definitely going to be a season I remember,” she said. “I hate for it to end.”
TWU finished up by dropping a five-set match to nationally ranked Angelo State in the LSC tournament, ending the season at 23-8 overall and 15-5 in conference play. The 23 victories were the second most in Barberee’s 10 seasons as the Pioneers’ head coach and the eight losses were the fewest defeats in her decade at the helm.
The Pioneers battled the No. 11 Rambelles to a two-point win in the fourth set to pull even in the match before falling 15-11 in the deciding fifth set in Friday’s semifinals.
On Monday, TWU learned that only the Rambelles, the LSC’s regular-season champs, and West Texas A&M, which won the tournament to earn the league’s automatic berth, would be advancing to the NCAA tournament.
Still, the highlights from the 2012 season are many, including 16 shutout victories, two six-match winning streaks, a 13-2 record at home and a 3-1 upset victory over then-ranked No. 9 Angelo State in the Pioneers’ final home match two weeks ago.
“It was a great season,” Barberee said. “It really was a record-breaking year, from the kids we had to the wins and losses. To end the season in the semifinals in a fifth set with our starting setter not on the floor and to come to within four points, that shows how hard we fought to the end.”
Barberee’s squad loses four seniors, including Viktorija Jablonska, Erin Harmon, Leslye Richmond and Hayley Summers.
“We were a team and we were a family,” Barberee said. “That’s how the girls saw each other — as sisters and teammates.”
Sophomore setter Kayla Rivero, who started 28 of the 30 games she played this year and was the Pioneers’ main set-up specialist with a team-leading 721 assists, missed the season’s final game with an injury she suffered in the tournament’s opening-round game.
Jablonska will be missed
Being named first-team All-Lone Star Conference for the second straight season last week only hints at the impact senior Viktorija Jablonska will leave with the TWU volleyball program.
“She is definitely, in my opinion, the most decorated volleyball athlete to ever play at TWU,” Shelly Barberee said. “I can’t say enough good things about Viktorija.”
The native of Daugavpils, Latvia, headlined four Pioneers honored with all-conference honors at last week’s postseason tournament. Jablonska, who transferred to TWU from Frank Phillips College two years ago, leaves the program as one of its most dangerous attackers at the net that helped lead TWU to a record-setting season this fall.
Jablonska, who led the Pioneers in kills (402) and service aces (25) and was among the top five in assists (250), blocks (71) and digs (223), registered eight triple-doubles this season. The rare feat — notching triple digits in three statistical categories during a match — became almost commonplace for the 6-foot Jablonska.
“Just the person she has become is what I’m most proud of,” Barberee said. “She’s turned into a really caring person.”
Jablonska was joined by junior blocker Chloe’ Tate on the all-LSC first team, while Marcela Alves (junior blocker) and Josie Santos (junior hitter) received second-team and honorable mention recognition, respectively.