When Gary Van Atta set up this year’s non-conference schedule, the Trevecca Nazarene women’s basketball coach thought he would have a different team on the floor.
It is not that Van Atta doesn’t like this year’s squad. It is just the Lady Trojans are lot younger than he expected.
He thought he would have five seniors, including four who were in their fifth year at Trevecca. None of those four came back — one decided to forgo her last year of eligibility to start graduate school, another opted for nursing school and one is working on her master’s degree in business administration.
“My job is to educate our students and give them the best opportunity they possibly can get,” Van Atta said. “This isn’t the first group of kids who have foregone their last playing year. We have had this before and we understand it. It is just unusual to have that many at one time.”
That left Van Atta with just one senior, his daughter K.C. Van Atta, who has been bothered by shin splints all season. Plus, two-year starter Chelsey Taylor, out of Baxter, dislocated her collarbone and missed the team’s first two TranSouth Conference games. On top of that, East Literature grad Shenita Gleaves hasn’t played since early December due to academic requirements, and Crossville native Destiny Dishman has also missed the first two league games.
All that adversity has been a handful for a young team of four freshmen, six sophomores, four juniors and one senior.
That group of Lady Trojans also faced one of toughest non-conference schedules in the country as it was filled with games against teams in the NAIA and NCAA Division II that were either ranked or receiving votes in their respective polls.
On the other side, Trevecca entered the 2010-11 season unranked for the first time since the end of the 2000-01 season. The first two months weren’t easy as the Lady Trojans stumbled to a 3-8 start.
“I wasn’t setting that schedule up for a team that had a freshman point guard and only one senior,” Van Atta said. “It has been really tough but it has been rewarding. They have competed and battled. ... Needless to say I am happy where we are. I’m not pleased with how we are playing because we can still get better. But I am happy with where we have been since Christmas break.”
Trevecca hasn’t given up, winning three of its last four, including knocking off No. 18 University of the Cumberlands on Dec. 30. Trevecca has won its first two conference games and enters Thursday’s home matchup against Bethel University with a 5-8 record and a 2-0 mark in league play.
The Lady Trojans have been balanced on offense. They don’t have anyone who averages more than 10 points a game but four players average at least eight.
London Ellie, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward from Lebanon, leads the team with 9.3 points and six rebounds a game to go along with 15 blocks. K.C. Van Atta, a Mount Juliet product, is trying to get back to full strength after being named to the All-TranSouth First Team and to the NAIA All-American Honorable Mention Team last season. The 6-foot forward is averaging 8.6 points.
The inside duo leads a team that is trying to rebound from a tough opening month and still make the NAIA Tournament for the 12th straight season.
“We are leaving it all open,” Gary Van Atta said. “We are not going to change our goals. What we are doing is changing how we prepare for them. Instead of looking ahead and figuring out this and figuring out that, we are literally doing the old coaching cliché — we are literally just taking it one day, one game at a time. We don’t want the girls to look too far ahead. We want them to concentrate on what they are doing and try to learn how to play with each other. I think if they do that, I think they have a chance. I just want them to be competitive and have a chance to win in every game. If they do that, I’ll be happy.”
• Belmont’s Jenkins earns A-Sun’s weekly honor: Belmont forward Blake Jenkins was named the Atlantic Sun Conference men's basketball Newcomer of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday.
Jenkins, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Knoxville, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in three conference wins last week. He had nine points, nine rebounds and three assists against Stetson on Jan. 5, then followed that with a career-high 10 points against North Florida on Jan. 8. He capped it off with nine points and nine rebounds against Jacksonville on Monday.
Jenkins and the Bruins (14-3, 6-0 A-Sun) return to action when they host Lipscomb (9-6, 4-2) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the first game of this year’s Battle of the Boulevard series.
• MTSU’s Dudley named Sun Belt Field Athlete of the Week: Several days after smashing conference and school records in the high jump, Middle Tennessee State’s Ann Dudley received more recognition from the Sun Belt Conference.
The sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla. was named the league’s field athlete of the week after she jumped 5 feet and 11.25 inches at the Ed Temple Classic at Tennessee State on Saturday. The leap is currently the highest mark in the NCAA this season and Dudley just missed automatic qualifications for the NCAA Indoor Championships, which will be held in March in Bloomington, Ind.
The previous league record was held by Heather Davis (Louisiana-Monroe), who jumped 5-10.5 in 2009. Dudley shared the previous best mark in MTSU history with Veronica Tipton and Mia Florence. All three cleared 5-8.
• Cumberland coaches accept national and regional awards: Cumberland head coaches Woody Hunt and Dewayne Alexander were in the national spotlight at their respective sports’ coaching conventions over the last few days.
Hunt, who led Cumberland to a 58-9 record and a NAIA national baseball championship last season, received the Rawlings NAIA Coach of the Year award at the American Baseball Coaches Convention, which took place last weekend at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. It is the second national coach of the year honor for Hunt, who is in his 30th season as the Bulldogs' head coach.
Alexander, who led the Cumberland football team to an 8-3 record, received the NAIA Region I Coach of the Year award on Tuesday at the American Football Coaches Association’s annual convention in Dallas. Alexander finished up his fifth season with the Bulldogs and led Cumberland to just its second eight-win season since the program was revived in 1990. The Bulldogs just missed making the playoffs and finished ranked 23rd in the final coaches’ Top 25 poll, which was released this week.
• MTSU to hold annual football banquet on Saturday: The Middle Tennessee State football program will hold its annual end-of-the-year awards banquet at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro.
The coat-and tie event is open to the public and tickets may be purchased for $40. Call (615) 898-2926 to buy tickets, which may be bought up until noon on Thursday.
The Blue Raiders finished the season 6-7 and with a loss to Miami University (Ohio) in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6.