Zias get offseason makover

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

PORTALES — To say the Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball team will have a different look in 2007-08 could be considered a serious understatement.

Only four players who were active on last year’s 14-12 squad (5-9 Lone Star Conference South) will be back, plus redshirts Erica Cook and Vanessa O’Neal. Second-year coach Linden Weese has done a major makeover of the roster with 12 incoming freshmen — eight from New Mexico and four from Texas.

Weese said the Zias, who will have to replace nearly 90 percent of their scoring and rebounding, face a challenging schedule even before they see LSC competition.

“I’m excited about them,” Weese said of his recruits. “I’ve told them they don’t have time to be freshmen. That’s why we’ve loaded up the front end of the schedule, to give them a chance to do that.”

Four of his in-state recruits are playing in the New Mexico Coaches Association’s Class 4A-5A all-star game June 9 in Gallup — Aztec’s Patricia Malouff for the North, and Clovis’ Tori Northcutt, Roswell High’s Samantha Matta and Deming’s Chelsea Bengel for the South — while Hope Christian’s Taylor Sauer will play for the North in the Class 3A all-star contest July 13 at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M.

Malouff, who led Aztec to the Class 4A state championship, said she knows there will be a transition period for the newcomers, but added that she’s confident good things are ahead for the Zias.

“Coach Weese is a great guy, and always reaches out to the kids,” she said. “I think going down there is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Malouff was a four-year starter at Aztec, averaging around 20 points for the Lady Tigers in her career. She poured in 37 points in Aztec’s 55-52 win at Clovis in mid-December.

“I had a lot of people tell me I was wasting my time recruiting her,” Weese said. “She had some D-I people recruiting here, but I think she knows she has a chance to be successful at this level. And she told me she liked the kids a lot.”

Malouff was also a track standout at Aztec and may also compete in that sport at ENMU.

“That was another reason I decided to go there, that I wouldn’t necessarily have to give up either sport that I love,” she said.

The Zias, who have 11 home dates next season, open with a four-team tournament hosted by Fort Lewis in Durango, Colo., also including Alaska-Anchorage and Dixie State (Utah). They also have an early trip to a weekend classic in Denver, hosted by Metro State.

“That’s by design,” Weese said of the schedule. “Metro was a top 20 team, and I think we’ll see some good teams at Fort Lewis.

“It’s a chance to move our program forward. We’ll see some teams that are (often) in the top 20, and see what it takes for us to get there.”