A Program On The Rise
March 29, 2012
By Sam Hickman
On February 12, the East Carolina women's basketball team trailed Marshall by 10 late in the first half. It would have been easy for the Pirates to throw in the towel. After all, the squad had suffered 14 consecutive losses - the last seven by double digits - prior to its meeting with the Thundering Herd.
Instead, ECU went on a 14-0 scoring spurt to grab a four-point lead and eventually ended the seven-week skid with a 61-57 triumph.
At the time, a single victory in nearly two months seemed relatively insignificant, but head coach Heather Macy's group wasn't finished.
Following its come-from-behind effort against Marshall, East Carolina won five of its final seven games. The dramatic turnaround was highlighted with three wins over opponents - UCF, Southern Miss and Tulsa - who knocked off the Purple and Gold earlier in the season. The upset win over the Golden Hurricane came in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament, validating Macy's challenge to her players to become "the team nobody wanted to play at the end of the year."
It's very rare for a team that was once 6-17 and winless in its first 10 conference matchups to suddenly transform into one of the league's hottest clubs, but that's exactly what happened. You would be hard-pressed to define the rise from bottom of the league to legitimate threat by X's and O's. Rather, the wins were a byproduct of resiliency.
"We had girls from their first half of the year to second half that were in completely different roles. That's tough on the kids to make those adjustments, but they continued to work," Macy said. "We have character players and they make it fun to coach."
It's common for rough stretches to create a dysfunctional atmosphere within the program and a divided locker room. Other teams respond admirably when their mettle is tested - teams like the 2011-12 Pirates.
"When you experience adversity often times, you have kids turn on each other and place the blame on someone else," Macy explained. "This group never did that. They showed tremendous resolve. They continued to show up early and stay late. They stuck together and believed in their teammates and coaches. The kids became more comfortable in their roles and winning was a byproduct of that."
Their success was not limited to the 94-foot parameters of the hardwood.
The program was one of three Pirate teams to place over 80 percent of its student-athletes on the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll - a biannual award given to those with cumulative grade point averages of 3.0 or higher. An impressive 11 of the 13 women's basketball roster members garnered the accolade.
If the late-season surge isn't reason enough for excitement, the projected 2012-13 roster certainly is.
Britny Edwards, Shala Hodges and Celeste Stewart are expected to anchor the veteran-laden squad. Edwards provided a formidable presence in the paint as she concluded her junior year averaging 6.9 points per game while pulling down seven boards a contest. Hodges finished as the team's second-leading scorer and Stewart developed into one of the unit's most versatile options (5.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.4 apg).
Macy also welcomes the return of Kristine Mial and Katie Paschal. Mial - a junior college transfer with two years of eligibility remaining - became the most dangerous threat from beyond the arc, knocking down 41 treys. Paschal provided quality minutes off the bench as the Williamston, N.C., native averaged just over four points while experiencing action in all 31 games.
In their initial seasons as Pirates, Tatiana Chapple, Janesha Ebron and Dana Jones were forced into action and performed at a very high level. Chapple finished as the squad's second-leading rebounder while local Greenville product Ebron received a starting nod in 13 of the final 14 games. Meanwhile, Jones saw action in 25 games as a reserve and averaged over 12 minutes played per tilt.
Furthermore, Macy said she looks forward to the return of Ariana Jackson - who received a medical redshirt last season in order to rehabilitate after experiencing season-ending knee surgery in 2011. She averaged over eight points and nearly five boards before she was sidelined nearly two years ago.
The Pirates will also infuse a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference school transfers into the lineup. Whitny Edwards - Britny's twin sister - sat out this year after playing three seasons of collegiate ball at Virginia.
Kyani White will also be eligible as the guard was sidelined this year to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements after playing in 17 games as a freshman at Virginia Tech in 2010-11.
Colleen Marshall - a 2012-13 signee - will add yet another dynamic to a talented, experienced lineup. The left-handed sharpshooter from Gaithersburg, Md., enjoyed a highly-decorated high school career, leading her squad to back-to-back Class AAAA state championships and 52 consecutive victories to close out her prep stint.
The pieces appear to be in place as the women's program seeks to continue its resurgence.
Macy finished by expressing her excitement regarding the future of East Carolina women's basketball.
"It's exciting for the kids and for me. They have tasted a little bit of success. So far, the offseason has been fun. We've only been training for a few days but the pace has been unbelievable. They're pushing and challenging each other. They are creating a standard so that when new players arrive, the standard becomes an expectation. It's a lot of fun."