Zias seek healthier year after 2005-06 struggles

First-year Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball coach talks to his players during a break in practice at Greyhound Arena. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)

By Mickey Winfield: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — A quick glance at the Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball roster reveals that the Zias have six seniors returning, including four starters, so you might figure this is a veteran team with girls who have played several minutes together.

That’s perfectly reasonable to assume, but you’d be wrong.

Then throw into the mix a first-year head coach. The Zias are a team full of experienced players, with little experience playing together.

Linden Weese takes over a Zias squad that went 11-17 last season (including 3-11 for seventh in the eight-team Lone Star Conference South). In the LSC preseason poll, the Zias were picked to once again finish seventh.

Weese says the injury bug was passed around the locker room last season, and because of the untimely nature of several serious knee injuries, many of his veterans haven’t played with each other.

“We’re really not (experienced) because of the injuries all of these kids have had,” Weese said. “We’ve got three that are coming off knee injuries from last year, and because of that they just haven’t played that much together.”

Senior forward Elizabeth Richards of Texico found herself on the business end of one of those untimely injuries (an ACL tear) last December, and she says that the Zias must work hard to gel into a successful team.

“I think we all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Richards, who was a Zias regular from 2002-2004. “We have not played together a lot, but I think we’re going to be OK because we respect each other, we respect our coaches and we work hard.”

Weese agrees. He comes to Portales after a 23-year span as an assistant coach in a successful Texas Tech women’s program.

He likes what he has to work with in his first collegiate head coaching stint.

“I think we’re pretty talented, I really do,” Weese said. “Their work ethic has been great.

“I just think we have to play some minutes together, and get our timing down and I think we’ll be a pretty good basketball team at the end of the season.”

Weese said the Zias will offer a fast-paced offense, looking to create and take open shots.

“We like to get the ball and run it right at you as quick as we can,” Weese said. “The first good shot that we’re comfortable with we’re going to try to pull the trigger on it and then turn around, try to get it back and do it again.”

On defense, expect tight man-to-man coverage from the Zias.

“We will (press) some, our primary defense will be man, and we’ll play some zone as well.”

Along with the battle-tested seniors, the Zias also have several new faces, including former Portales High standout Megan Kabrick, who helped the Lady Rams win three Class 3A state titles in her four years.

She thinks the positive atmosphere in practice will help the Zias get back on track.

“(Coach Weese) comes into the gym and he just gives off this vibe,” Kabrick said. “He makes us want to be here, and has enthusiasm.

“It’s awesome. I think a positive attitude will help anybody succeed.”

That trickles down to everybody on the team. Despite last year’s woes, Richards believes the Zias can compete in the rugged LSC South.

“We want to definitely have a winning season, at least,” Richards said. “I think we want it more this year than in any of the other years, and we’re working much harder.”

The Zias hit the court in their season opener on Saturday at Oklahoma Panhandle State, then open their home schedule against New Mexico Highlands on Tuesday at Greyhound Arena.

Weese believes his squad is anxious to get started.

“They’ll be ready to go,” he said of his players. “They’ve been working hard on their physical conditioning. If practice is any indicator, then I think they’ll definitely be ready.”

ENMU women’s basketball
18 — at Oklahoma Panhandle State, 6 p.m.; 21 — New Mexico Highlands, 5:30 p.m.; 24 — vs. Adams State at Canyon, Texas, 1 p.m.; 25 — at West Texas A&M, 5 p.m.-x; 30 — Southwestern Oklahoma, 5:30 p.m.-y.
2 — Cameron, 2 p.m.-y; 7 — Oklahoma Panhandle State, 7 p.m.; 9 — at Texas A&M-Commerce, 1 p.m.-y; 18 — at New Mexico Highlands, 6 p.m.; 20 — West Texas A&M, 7 p.m.-x; 29 — Lubbock Christian, 2 p.m.
4 — Northeastern State, 5:30 p.m.-y; 6 — Central Oklahoma, 2 p.m.-y; 11 — at East Central, 5 p.m.-y; 13 — at Southeastern Oklahoma, 1 p.m.-y; 18 — at Abilene Christian, 5 p.m.-x; 20 — Angelo State, 5 p.m.-x; 25 — at Midwestern State, 5 p.m.-x; 27 — at Tarleton State, 5 p.m.-x.
1 — at Texas Woman’s, 6 p.m.-x; 3 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 1 p.m.-x; 8 — Texas Woman’s, 7 p.m.-x; 10 — Texas A&M-Kingsville, 5 p.m.-x; 14 — Abilene Christian, 5:30 p.m.-x; 17 — at Angelo State, 5 p.m.-x; 22 — Midwestern State, 5:30 p.m.-x; 24 — Tarleton State, 5 p.m.-x.
All times MST. x-Denotes Lone Star Conference South Division games. y-Denotes Lone Star Conference crossover games.

No. Name Ht. Pos. Yr.
3 Rochelle Vance 5-10 F Jr.
4 Rosalyn Elliott 5-8 G Jr.
10 Elizabeth Richards 5-11 F Sr.
12 Megan Ratliff 5-9 G Sr.
13 Laura Vote 5-8 G So.
14 Heather Brown 5-7 G Sr.
20 Lindsey Wood 5-7 G So.
22 Roni Gomez 5-7 G Jr.
23 Ashley Davis 5-8 G Fr.
33 Megan Kabrick 5-11 G/F Fr.
34 Missy Kirkland 5-7 G Sr.
44 Kristal Hill 6-1 P Fr.
55 Riikka Lehtonen 6-0 P Sr.
Head coach: Linden Weese (1st year). Assistant coaches: Haley White, Austin Durett. 2006 record: 11-17 (3-11, 7th, in Lone Star Conference South Division).