By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
WVU Tech has adopted the “Why not us?” mantra.
The Golden Bears’ women’s basketball team (17-13) enters the 2013 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament in Frankfort, Ky. as an underdog against one of the top seeds, NAIA No. 1 Freed-Hardeman (Henderson, Tenn.) University (31-1), in a 5:45 p.m. first-round encounter Wednesday at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Freed-Hardeman, an NAIA Fab Four participant in 2011, is the TranSouth Atlantic Conference representative, while Tech is the Association of Independent Institutions representative.
The Golden Bears are the No. 8 seed in Quadrant I of the 32-team bracket, while the Lions are the top seed.
“Absolutely, we welcome the challenge,” said Tech coach Jenna Everhart. Her team’s first-round opponent is “very talented,” she stressed. “They’re well-rounded scoring and a very good defensive team.”
In the postseason, she stresses, “It’s the same for everyone. Everyone has the same opportunities.” Last year, for example, Freed-Hardeman was a No. 1 seed and was bounced out in the first round. “Why not us?,” Everhart asked.
Senior guard Courtney Sturdivant leads the Bears into action with a 15.7 points per game scoring average while pulling down 6.1 rebounds an outing. Fellow senior Amy Gardner, a shooting guard, averages 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds and has canned 63 3-point field goals. The squad’s third senior, shooting guard Amber Tully, scores at a 12.2 ppg clip and averages 5.2 rebounds per game while hitting 79 3-pointers.
Other main contributors include Nia Nolan (9.8 ppg, 128 assists), Roche Wimberly (7.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Tracee Mitchel (4.8 ppg), Mashya White (4.5 ppg) and Cheyanna Lusk (4.2 ppg).
Lusk, a freshman from Westside High School, feels she’s made a lot of progress this season.
“It’s a totally different level,” she says of the college game. “I feel like I’ve gotten better within myself. It’s pushed me to be way better.”
To get the court time she has so far has been a bonus, Lusk added. “I didn’t expect it (the playing time) coming in as a freshman.”
Sturdivant said her team was underestimated at the recent A.I.I. event on its own home court. “Everybody came to play,” she said. “We showed ‘em.”
“Practice has been good,” she continued. “All the girls are excited to be going to the tournament.
“I have to make sure I keep everybody calm. I feel like we can play with anybody.”
“The key is definitely defense and rebounding,” Sturdivant stressed. “Our offense always comes.
“We’re really positive going in. Our attitudes are better (than last year). We just come ready every day. I just want to upset a lot of people.”
Gardner stressed that the Golden Bears must stick together.
“Basically, we just have to play as a team,” she said. “I feel like we have enough pieces ... if we can put it all together.
“We all have to show up and play for 40 minutes.”
Gardner, who’s been at Tech for 2 1/2 years, feels this year’s team “has better team chemistry.” And, she adds, there’s a “better work ethic, and we focus on defense.
The Lions, winners of 17 straight contests following a 74-71 overtime loss to College of the Ozarks on Jan. 3 (the season’s only blemish), are led by Natalie Shumpert (16.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Ashley Tate (9.5 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Amber Alexander (8.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg).
“From an athletic standpoint, we match up well,” Everhart said. “We have had a challenging schedule.
“We’re hitting our stride at the right time. There’s no reason we can’t put ourselves in a position to win. It (the NAIA tourney appearance) is a great thing for Tech.”
“Last week (winning the A.I.I. tournament) was amazing,” she added. “We’ve all come back down to earth.
“We’re ready to compete.”
The winner of Wednesday’s game faces the survivor of the Campbellsville (Ky.)-Wiley (Texas) matchup that will be played at 8 p.m. tonight.
For up-to-date information on the NAIA National Tournament and other WVU Tech Athletics, visit www.GoldenBearAthletics.com.