TWU and Midwestern State will get an early start — by nearly a month — on their Lone Star Conference season when they face off Thursday in the only LSC game scheduled this month.
While the rest of the conference will wait until the first week of 2014 to begin league play, the Pioneers and Mustangs meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in Wichita Falls.
Pioneers coach Beth Jillson and Midwestern’s Noel Johnson agreed to move the game up to avoid opening LSC play in early January after only a few days of practice following an NCAA-required weeklong layoff during the Christmas break.
“We would have played the first week of January, and I think we would have only had three or four days of practice after the team being off for a week,” Jillson said. “So it’s a little strange starting this early. The conference schedule is very different this year.”
After Thursday, the Pioneers (3-3) won’t play again for 10 days so they can focus on final exams. One final December home game is set for Dec. 16 against Southeastern Oklahoma State before TWU plays in the Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas.
“We feel like we’re ready for conference [play],” Jillson said. “I’m glad we’re playing. We’re going to get to see where we are really quickly. I feel in our preseason schedule we faced some quality opponents and they’ve prepared us for Midwestern State.”
Stating the obvious
To say that revenge is on the minds of the Pioneers as they head into Thursday’s first-round South Central Region tournament clash with Angelo State would be an understatement. Within minutes of the announcement last week of the rematch between the LSC rivals, players were texting “Revenge, baby” to coach Shelly Barberee.
A family emergency had kept Barberee away from the team when the Pioneers lost to the Rambelles in five sets in the semifinals of the conference tournament on Nov. 22. Barberee also missed the release of the regional bracket.
But once it was announced that TWU would face Angelo State for a fourth time this season, Barberee’s phone blew up with messages from her players.
“The first thing all of them said was ‘Revenge, baby,’” Barberee said. “That was the text I got from about 10 of the girls. I guess I’ve said it enough times and pushed it enough that they’re kind of thinking what I’m thinking.”
TWU and Angelo State met twice during the regular season, with the Pioneers winning in a three-set sweep at home and ASU claiming a four-set win on its home floor.
“The thing about them is that’s the last taste we have in our mouths — them beating us in five,” Barberee said. “It was a pretty emotional weekend, and my team was playing with their emotions kind of on their sleeves.
“We know we’re a better team,” she said. “We know we can beat that team. Saying we’re ready to play them is kind of an understatement in my mind. We’re super excited to be at regionals.”
This year marks the first time in Barberee’s 11 seasons as head coach that her team has qualified for a regional berth. The Pioneers finished the regular season 22-10 and enter the tournament as the No. 6 seed.
“The girls know we can do it,” Barberee said. “They’re ready to do it.”
All-LSC honors announced
Seniors Chloe’ Tate and Marcela Alves led a group of five Pioneers who were named to the All-Lone Star Conference team.
Tate and Alves earned first-team honors, while senior Josie Santos and junior Kayla Rivero were selected to the second team. Junior Morgan Wilson received honorable mention.
It marked the third time Tate has received all-conference honors, earning a second-team spot in 2011 and garnering first-team status in 2012. The Ryan product played in every set this season, finishing second on the team in total blocks (124) and third in kills (254).
Alves and Santos received All-LSC honors for the second time, while Rivero and Wilson earned recognition for the first time.
Two make academic team
Tate and Rivero have been named to the LSC all-academic team. The recognition for their athletic skills and work in the classroom is a first for the players.
Tate, a senior kinesiology major, has a grade-point average of 3.524. She’s a three-time pick for the Lone Star Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll and received the 2012-13 Division II Athletic Directors Association Academic Achievement Award.
Rivero is a junior math major with a 3.803 GPA and also has been honored with selection to the LSC Commissioner’s Honor Roll. She’s received the Athletic Directors Association Academic Achievement Award the last two years.
Holiday Spectular on tap
TWU will unveil its 2014 gymnastics team Saturday when the program hosts its annual Holiday Spectacular intrasquad meet.
The Pioneers will be split into two squads and compete against each other in a meet format. The competition begins at 6 p.m. at Kitty Magee Arena.
TWU enters the season, which begins Jan. 10 with a dual meet at Auburn, with an experienced roster that includes 10 returning letter winners from a squad that placed second at the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships.
“At this point in time it’s somewhat difficult to get a true read on the team, but we are going to be very experienced,” coach Lisa Bowerman said. “We return 21 of our 24 routines at the nationals, so we’ve got a lot of experience coming back. I think that’s going to be very valuable to us.”
The Pioneers will be a veteran team with eight returning seniors and three returning juniors. Also in the mix will be senior Brittany Montalbano, who missed most of last season with injuries but is back to compete in vault, uneven bars and floor exercise.
TWU’s first home meet is scheduled for Jan. 18 against Air Force.
Pioneers to get rings
Members of the 2013 softball team, coaches and staff will receive rings commemorating their NCAA South Central Region championship in a ceremony prior to Saturday’s intrasquad gymnastics meet.
Last spring, the Pioneers captured the LSC regular-season and tournament titles before winning the South Central regional to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time.