Women’s team expects optimistic offseason

Redshirt freshman guard Savannah Stults defends a Union University opponent Feb. 18 in Flowers Hall. The Lions finished 5-22 on the season, but will return the majority of their roster next year.

A disappointing year came to an end Feb. 27 for the UNA women’s basketball team, as the Lions fell 58-51 to Alabama-Huntsville, closing the season with a 5-22 record.

The Gulf South Conference coaches picked the Lions fifth in the preseason poll, but many factors hindered the team’s success, including a number of injuries. UNA lost seven of its last 10 games, but five of those were by four points or less.

Although the Lions did not do well in the 2015-16 season, the team is building for success in the years to come, said UNA head coach Missy Tiber.

“I think about (next year) every day,” Tiber said. “Our job as a coach is to make the team better, so I spent two days in gyms (last week) watching junior college games and high school games to prepare our team for the future.”

Pending approval from the NCAA for senior Alexus Patterson’s eligibility, the Lions only lose senior guard Janae Lyde next year.

The only signings so far for UNA is Lauderdale County High School standouts Emma, Ella and Ivy Wallen. Tiber said she plans to add a few more players who can bring an athletic presence to the team.

Tiber said improvements throughout the season from this year’s team give her hope for a better basketball team for next season.

“We’ve been a much better basketball team the last five weeks or so,” Tiber said. “I think we’ve made progress. I think some of our kids have gotten better, and that’s been the goal. It’s been disappointing that we haven’t had more wins, but at the same time, they are working hard and giving their full effort.”

The injury-plagued Lions started numerous freshmen and sophomores throughout the season, helping a multitude of players gain experience early in their careers.

Junior Tionne Herron is the team’s only guaranteed senior for next season. Herron said she hopes to see the exact opposite result of last season next year.

“I want a ring (next year),” Herron said. “I want to win. I want next year’s record to be the opposite of what it is now. I think everybody is starting to get the picture of what we were trying to paint. Now, it’s a matter of putting it together (for next year).”

Herron, who started 10 games in 2015 and the two opening games of 2016, saw less minutes toward the end of the season with the emergence of younger role players. Herron said the drawback on her playing time helped her realize the direction the team is heading.

“There were some games where I wondered why I didn’t get in,” Herron said. “From sitting on the sideline I have (seen a lot of improvement from the team). We have to keep those standards high for the newcomers.”

Letting close games slip away was the frustrating for the Lions, but showing enough improvement to hang with talented teams was a positive, said sophomore Jaclyn Heath.

“Throughout the year, we got increasingly better,” Heath said. “It may not have shown up in our overall record, but it showed in practice and in many games that we we’re in right until the end.”

Heath said working harder in the offseason would be key for UNA’s turnaround next season.

“I think the whole team is ready and willing to get in the gym this spring and next fall so that next year, we are winning those games that we were in right until the very end,” Heath said.