Richards to play again for Zias

Elizabeth Richards, who left the Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball squad last season, plans to return to the court this year for the Zias. (CNJ file photo)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

PORTALES — After a one-year hiatus, former Texico High School standout Elizabeth Richards is coming back to the Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball program.

Richards, who helped the Zias contend for the Lone Star Conference South Division title in 2003-04 but decided not to play last season, said the year off might have allowed her to re-energize her wiry 5-foot-11 frame from the rigors of inside play.

“I’m really excited,” she said Tuesday. “It might have done me some good to sit out a year.

“I’m excited about going back. I’m glad God has opened the door for me, and coach (Dan) Buzard have given me another opportunity.”

Buzard, who missed all of last season after being diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in late July, has returned to the head coaching role. Assistant Dustin Klafka, who led the Zias to a 13-14 record last season (7-7 South) as the acting head coach, accepted an assistant’s job earlier this summer at South Plains College in his hometown of Levelland, Texas.

The Zias have hired Chad Walker, 33, as Buzard’s fulltime assistant. Haley White will be back for her second year as a graduate assistant.

Richards averaged 12.1 points and was fourth in the LSC in rebounding at 8.1 per game in 2003-04 as the Zias finished 16-12 overall and 10-4 in the South. But she told Buzard early last summer that she wasn’t going to play because “her heart wasn’t in it,” he said.

“We’re very happy she’s back,” Buzard said. “Elizabeth is a multi-dimensional player; she can play a lot of positions for us.”

She acknowledged she missed playing a bit.

“But I was pretty busy with school,” she said. “I got to play a lot in intramurals and I got to play (regularly) with a group of boys.

“I’ll work really hard at it. Hopefully, I’ll be OK, but I guess we’ll see.”

Although she could have enough credits to graduate in December, Richards has two years of basketball eligibility remaining. She hasn’t made a decision on whether to go to grad school next year and use her fourth season.

“I’m just going to take it one year at a time,” she said.

Walker, 33, a graduate of Southwestern Oklahoma, has been a high school coach for several years in Texas and Oklahoma. The past two seasons, he was the boys coach at Class 2A Hollis in the southwestern corner of Oklahoma.

Because of his experience around Southwestern Oklahoma, Walker doesn’t think the transition to college coaching will be that difficult.

“I’m excited about being out here, and excited about the opportunity that coach Buzard and Eastern New Mexico have provided,” Walker said. “I’ve got an opportunity to learn a lot from coach Buzard.”