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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

By Bethany Bradsher

Adversity-tested Lady Pirates eye postseason

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

There’s an old English proverb that says, “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.” If that’s true, the Lady Pirates basketball team should be poised to navigate whatever waters the postseason might bring.

A year ago, the East Carolina squad was preparing for a Conference USA tournament where they would place second and earn a spot in the Women’s NIT tournament. They advanced to the second round in the postseason event.

Leadership-wise, the Lady Pirates were in a comfortable place, taking direction from Sharon Baldwin-Tener in her eighth year at the helm.

Three weeks after their loss to Maryland in the WNIT, Baldwin-Tener announced that she was leaving for Georgia State. Ten days after that bombshell, Wes Moore was introduced as the new Lady Pirates’ leader, and two days later he announced that he had changed his mind and would stay at UT-Chattanooga.

The day after Moore’s flip-flop, another new coach — Heather Macy — took her place at the Pirate podium and assured fans and players that she was committed to ECU for the long haul.

The Lady Pirate players, bruised by the turbulent coaching carousel, started the long process of learning a new scheme under a new leader.

It took some time to relax and trust the new staff, and they tested out their tenuous new unity when the season opened in November. They traveled extensively in December, stumbled some in the early C-USA slate and then tried to settle into a rhythm, which at its best resulted in a three-game winning streak.

It’s an experienced team with depth at all positions, but throughout the season injuries and illnesses have created even more turbulence and interrupted ECU’s momentum. Chareya Smith, Kim Gay, Ariana Jackson, Crystal Wilson and Kelly Smith all missed multiple games this season because of injuries, Macy said, and sickness also took a toll. Several steps forward and few steps back resulted in slowed progress and more than a little bit of frustration.

But now spring is in the air, most of the injured players are healed up, and the team has an established itself as an immovable force at home in Minges Coliseum. Heading into their final game at UAB and the C-USA championships in El Paso, the Lady Pirates can legitimately lay claim to that magical athletic trend of playing their best when it matters most.

“We’re peaking at the right time, that’s for sure,” said Macy, whose team stands at 14-14 overall and 8-7 in the conference. “You want to be playing your best basketball this time of year.”

One measure of how much resiliency the Lady Pirates have gained this season was their reaction to Sunday’s contest against Marshall, a sloppy contest where neither team had an easy time finding the basket. The stat sheets looked troublesome, but ECU pressed on and pulled out the victory on the Senior Day that celebrated three pillars, Allison Spivey, Kim Gay and Kelly Smith. It was the Lady Pirates' seventh straight victory at home.

The rest of their slate is in Alabama and Texas, but Macy is looking forward to the more solid, mature group that she can lead on those adventures. They have been sharpened by the adversity, been made into expert sailors by the inclement weather that battered their program last year.

They have a good chance of taking fourth or fifth in the conference and running through the C-USA tournament with confidence, Macy said.  Women’s basketball has become one of the ECU programs that feels like it belongs in the postseason, and last year was a sturdy building block indeed.

Nudging that momentum, even from afar, will be the fans that have given ECU bragging rights as the team with the largest home attendance in the conference. Sunday’s Marshall game drew 2,861, the 10th largest crowd in the program’s history.  That factor, along with healthier players and strong senior leadership, will act as buoys to mark the way on the sea voyage ahead, which Lady Pirate fans hope extends for a long time.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

03/30/2011 12:47 AM

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