SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 30, 2013) – The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) women's basketball team led by head coach Christopher Minner is ranked No. 17 in the 2013-2013 NAIA DI Women's Basketball Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll, the national office announced this week. The Saints finished the 2012-2013 season ranked No. 23 after their second berth to the national tournament in Kentucky.
The Saints finished 2012-2013 with an impressive 30-4 overall record and a 20-2 record in the Red River Athletic Conference. The team finished as co-champions of the conference and lost to Wiley College in the conference tournament championship game. The Saints suffered three out of their four losses to the Wildcats from Wiley College.
In the NAIA tournament in Kentucky, the Saints played No. 15-ranked Rogers State University (RSU) in the first round and even though junior Nashae Owens finished the game with 18 points, the Hillcats from Claremore, Okla. won 79-69.
|To listen to a podcast of the interview by Saints Reporter Martin Hansson and|
Head Coach Christopher Minner, visit this link: https://soundcloud.com/ollumartinhansson/ollu-womens-basketball
According to Head Coach Minner, he believes that the team would have won the first round game if it were not for injuries some of the women suffered. He also thinks the team is good enough to go even farther in the future.
"I have no doubt that we would have won the game if we could have stayed healthy," said Minner. "I think we have the capability to win the first round and to go even further in the tournament."
This was the second time the team participated in the national tournament as well as suffering a loss in the first round. This year Minner hopes that a tougher preseason schedule will prepare the Saints to go past the first round and even farther.
"I said let's play a really hard preseason, so that way we are prepared for what a national tournament team will be like," explained Minner. "You have to play the best to be the best, and that's something we will do this year."
This season the Saints are scheduled to play eight teams that all participated in last year's national tournament. The team will also play a handful of NCAA Division I and II teams. This year's schedule will be the toughest in the program's history and could be, according to Minner, the hardest in the nation among NAIA Division I schools.
The Saints has prepared themselves for this though schedule by scrimmaging the OLLU men's club basketball team during their pre-season workouts. Minner hopes that this is something that will make the team play tougher and with more pace.
"I think playing the guys has made them better, because the guys are obviously more physically and tougher than any of the teams we will play," commented Minner. "It makes our girls play faster and react faster, which is good."
The Saints lost three seniors last year and will have two returning seniors in this year's roster, including Sam Offord, a 5'5" guard from Kaufman, Texas, and Chelsea Solis, a 5'7" guard from San Antonio.
Returning for their junior year are Mercedes Dobson a 5'10" forward from West Sacramento, Calif., and Nashae Owens, a 5'5" guard from Pearland, Texas. Sophomores returning for the Saints are Lauren Rubio, a 5'8" guard from San Antonio, and Nelly Flores, a 5'11" forward from Pharr, Texas.
Along with the six returning players, Minner has added five freshmen as well as six transfers to this year's roster.
New freshmen include Ciaira Briseno, a 5'3" point guard from McAllen, Texas, and Jessica Walaski, a 6'0" post from San Antonio. Also added are red-shirts Briana Bustamante, a 5'5" guard from San Antonio; Gabriela Cavazos, a 5'7" guard from Harlingen, Texas; and Meia Rachel, a 5'8" forward from Cypress Ranch, Texas.
Transferring players include Electra Roberts, a 5'6" junior guard from Columbia, La. and Panola College; Ornela Bacchini, a 6'2" senior center from Buenos Aires, Argentina and Lewis Clark State University; Courtney Bayliss, a 6'0" junior forward from Perth, Australia and the University of Mobile; Florentina Mendoza-Jimenez, a 5'4" junior point guard from Sacramento, Calif. and Paloma College; Destiny Melton, a 5'10" junior forward from Los Angeles, Calif. and San Jacinto College; and Rebecca Kolawole, a 5'7" junior guard from Rowlett, Texas and Panola College.
Minner coached last season on an interim basis, and in March 2013, he was officially named the head coach for the Saints. Valerie Huizar also coached last year as interim assistant coach and was named official assistant coach in May. In addition, assistant coach Randy Gibbons will return for his fourth year. New to the coaching staff for this year is former player and now graduate assistant Nikkia Davis. Minner is happy to have his former two-year standout helping the team.
"Nikkia being here will help the new players learn the system," said Minner. "It's good to have an ex-player's perspective so she can find out and take the temperature on the team."
Michael Thompson, the play-by-play announcer for women's basketball, men's basketball and volleyball, thinks that the team has the potential to be very successful this year and that there will be a lot of good basketball played in the Mabee Gymnasium this season.
"I think we are scary good and I think we are going to do better than a lot of people think against some of the tougher teams," explained Thompson. "It is going to be a fun year of basketball at OLLU, I think it's going to be a lot of success and I see a lot of banners coming in the future."
The Red River Athletic Conference released the women's basketball pre-season poll last week and the Saints are ranked No. 1 followed by Wiley College. Minner was surprised that the team received the top spot but thinks it shows that the program is heading in the right direction.
"It surprised me a little bit that we were ranked number one," said Minner. "However I do think that it says something about the recruits we brought to the program and how good our returners are."
The first game of the season for the Saints will be played against former RRAC-rival Texas Wesleyan University, Nov. 6, in Fort Worth. The Saints will continue on the road as they travel to Beaumont the following week to scrimmage NCAA Div. I Lamar University.
The Saints will open their conference schedule on the road as the team travels to Oklahoma for its first two games against Langston University, Dec. 6, and Bacone College, Dec. 7.
The team will return to Mabee Gym after 10 straight away games as the team takes on conference opponent the University of the Southwest on Dec. 12 at 5:30 p.m.
This year's annual Halo Classic takes place Dec. 30-31 and this year the Saints will host teams from throughout the nation. Evangel University from Missouri, Bethel University from Tennessee and Concordia University from Nebraska will all participate in what could be the most competitive Halo Classic so far.
All home matches will be broadcast live with play-by-play action provided by Michael Thompson, television studio technician at OLLU. In addition, live stats will be available for all home matches. Links will be available on the Saints web site, and on the official Saints social media sites, including Twitter (OLLUSaints), Facebook (OLLUSaintsAthletics) and Instragram.