When venturing out to climb a mountain, setting up a base camp is a necessity in order to reach the peak at an attainable pace instead of attempting to complete the entire trek in one day.
By the time TWU reached its base camp at the NCAA regional tournament Dec. 5 in Canyon — the national tourney in Iowa set as the Pioneers’ summit — the pressure of the moment ended their trail.
“If you’re just concentrating on that last match at the end, it was definitely one of the worst matches we’ve played all season,” TWU coach Shelly Barberee said. “Do I know what attributed to that? No. Do I feel like we were prepared? I do. I think our nerves had a lot to do with it. We couldn’t do anything right.”
The Pioneers were bounced from the Lone Star Conference tournament and the opening round of the regional by the Angelo State Belles, who then were eliminated from both tournaments by conference and regional champion West Texas A&M
Even though it was more than familiar with the Belles, things simply did not go TWU’s way. It fell 25-13 in the first set on the way to being swept.
“We started off awful, and that started us off on the wrong foot and we couldn’t turn it back around,” Barberee said. “With that being said, if I didn’t have the girls that I had, we would have never been there in the first place.”
Barberee attributed the Pioneers’ regional failure partly to nerves, especially the seniors who desperately wanted to end the season on a positive note.
“They want it so bad that they tensed up,” Barberee said. “Our block was early and it made us overanxious. The seniors especially wanted it so much, and in return it caused them to make errors and be tense. They tried to make it too perfect. We were just making errors because we wanted it, and they wanted it for me. They knew I hadn’t been to the regional tournament, but they give everything for me because they want to make me proud.”
Despite not reaching their zenith, the Pioneers claimed several successes. Last season they boasted a better record at 23-8 compared with this year’s 22-11 mark, but Barberee said she admires the talent on this season’s team.
TWU made the regional tournament for only the third time. Barberee eclipsed Sandy Troudt for most wins in school history with 192, and the Pioneers had five players selected to all-conference team.
TWU senior Marcela Alves also was named to the Daktronics All-South Central Region second team, marking the third consecutive season TWU has had a player selected.
But Barberee and the Pioneers really set out to earn respect.
“You always want teams to give you respect, and you have to do that to build the reputation,” Barberee said. “People think that we have a good team but that we aren’t going to challenge for a national championship, but we’ve been to the LSC tournament 11 consecutive years while I’ve been coach.
“I don’t want to be considered a mediocre team. Each year I want to grow the respect. That’s the only way people will listen to you and give you a bid. I think we’ll get way more looks and more teams wanting to play us because of the respect and reputation we’ve received.”
The Pioneers lost at regionals to a beatable conference opponent but got within sight of a national tournament berth.
“For the seniors, that’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears to go into one match, but that one match, in our world, meant everything to us,” Barberee said. “Even though we lost it, we were there. So next time we go, it won’t be the nerves and hype and hoopla. It will just be another match, but you’ve got to take the first step. I think we took the first step and now you’ve just got to build from there.”
Losing seniors Alves, Chloe’ Tate, Courtnee Davis, Erica Humbach and Josie Santos will be especially difficult for Barberee.
“This group of seniors is special to me,” Barberee said. “They were the group that accomplished one of my goals, helped me break the school record and they were the group that did all the steps for me and not to mention for the program. They’ve backed me 100 percent. I couldn’t have asked for a better group. I’m going to miss them.”
With the changing of leadership already set in motion thanks to the seniors’ guidance, the Pioneers’ base camp is fully established.
“That’s how you build traditions,” Barberee said. “You want to make your own mark. Now we have to go to regionals and do better. You can’t be satisfied. It’s not good enough to just go. This year we didn’t just want to go, but that’s what happened. I’ve been doing it for several years, and you’ve got to find that niche. I’m still going to rely on this year to push this next year forward.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.