(Look for 10th anniversary features on all of our teams throughout the season.)
"Get back on defense! Shoot the ball! What are you doing? Attack!"
Head Coach Christopher Minner's commands from the bench fill Mabee Gymnasium, ringing throughout. Coordinating five players on a court in a game renowned for its spontaneity is no easy task, but it's one the women's basketball team has managed throughout its entire existence.
The Saints entered their eighth season 177-51 in 2016-2017, which amounts to a .776 winning percentage. They are 118-26 in Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) play, winning the regular season title outright in each of the last four seasons. Last season, the Saints spent time atop the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Women's Basketball Coaches' Top 25 rankings, bowing out in the Sweet 16 round of the NAIA National Championship Tournament. In three previous trips to nationals, the Saints finished in the first round in 2012 and 2013, and the Sweet 16 round in 2014 and 2015.
|Krystal Manning is a native of Marrero, La., and transferred to|
OLLU from Texas A&M International University.
The Saints have six All-Americans, including two Honorable Mentions from Nashae Owens, one from Stacey Darnley, Nikkia Davis and Sonji Green; a Second Team award for Courtney Bayliss; and last year's First Team All-American, Taylor Hamilton. Over its history, OLLU has had three Defensive Player of the Year awards (Krystal Manning, Stacey Darnley and Rebecca Kolawole), one Player of the Year Award (Taylor Hamilton), one Freshman of the Year Award (Nashae Owens), eight NAIA Scholar Athletes and 24 RRAC Scholar Athletes.
Playing for OLLU requires an incredible amount of discipline, which carries over from the court to the classroom and vice versa. The basketball team plays a hectic style that invites and thrives on chaos. In its first season, the basketball team ranked third in the NAIA in offensive rebounds per game and fifth in steals per game. But the secret to thriving in chaos—to improvising in harmony—is paying great attention to detail, planning and consistency.
Stability in upheaval
The core of the Saints' first team transferred from Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) in Laredo, Texas, with the hiring of Head Coach Daryl Vincent and Minner, who was Vincent's assistant at the time. The coaches were joined by three players and a few recruits they'd been in contact with during their time at TAMIU.
|Tasha Yancey graduated from Marshall High School in San Antonio and transferred to OLLU from|
Texas A&M International University.
Juniors Krystal Manning, Tasha Yancey and Elizabeth Hampton (now Perry) provided a stable core, with Manning a quality all-around player, Hampton an offensive threat and Yancey a quality defender. Their familiarity with the coaching staff and system would prove crucial to the team's success with the Saints devoid of senior leadership or experience.
Yancey and Hampton, in particular, were best friends -- Yin and Yang/offense and defense.
"I was pretty comfortable because I knew Coach Vincent and a few of the players," Hampton said. "It was an interesting mix of juniors and freshmen. We had to serve as leaders of the team."
Minner says the transition was quick and chaotic. The team had no real offseason training, no continuity and no tradition.
"It helped having familiar players. They could help everyone else understand what we were trying to do," Minner said. "It was risky for them to go to a program in its first year. It was a gamble going to a school that barely started its athletics program. To do that is trusting the school and coaches without any track record to go on."
Minner credits the athletic department and the university for providing some amount of stability, including amenities like a film room and a larger recruiting budget than was available at TAMIU. Even the location proved to be fortuitous, offering a deeper talent base in San Antonio than available in Laredo, Texas.
"Being in San Antonio, we had a lot of opportunities a lot of other startup programs didn't have. We wanted to establish our up-tempo style right away and start winning championships," Minner said. "The school provided the basketball programs with everything we needed to be successful at the outset. For not having athletics before, we weren't hurting for anything. I thought that was key. The university already had a plan, so when we got here, everything was already set."
Off the court, the team bonded over music and dancing—in the locker room, through the halls in the dorms and even on the court, before and after practice. Hampton admitted to being the worst, while Manning won a talent competition for her rendition of Michael Jackson's dance moves.
These moments of off-court bonding would help establish the rhythm the team would need to compete in its first year.
|Elizabeth Hampton is from Kennedale, Texas,|
and transferred to OLLU from Texas A&M International University.
The Saints needed whatever stability they could cling to in the beginning of the program, because the style that would become OLLU's trademark depended upon a synchronization just not possible from a team with little-to-no experience playing with each other.
Since its inception, the Saints have run Minner's pressing defense, inducing a fast-paced style that sprints the line between controlled chaos and recklessness.
"We were a fast paced team because the presses Minner ran. That's what separated us from other teams in the conference," Hampton said. "It was just constantly forcing turnovers and getting as many quick baskets as possible. If we didn't have to set up an offense the entire game, that's what he would've wanted."
It's a high-risk, high-reward system that requires perfect choreography to bend the numbers in the Saints' favor.
Success trickled in dribs and drabs, with a win or two followed by two losses.
"I knew what it was supposed to look like and how it was supposed to work from my time at TAMIU, but since everything was so new and we didn't know each other, it was tough," Yancey said. "The thing is, if even one person is off, the entire thing falls apart."
Twenty-five games into the season, the Saints were struggling at 11-14 and OLLU had established its first tradition: Minner red.
"I remember Coach Minner yelling at everyone and his face turning really red, shouting to get back on defense," Hampton said.
"Coach Minner was crazy. Minner red crazy," Yancey joked. "He's crazy, but he's one of the best, if not the best, coach I've ever had in my life.
"He's tough and a lot of people can't handle it, so he'll weed through them quickly. But he knows how to pull out the best in everyone. As someone who coaches now, I respect the hell out of him."
|Tasha Yancey, Elizabeth Hampton, TV Personality Bridget Smith, Jennifer Davison and Coach Daryl Vincent visited the local CBS station to promote the Saints' team.|
The press clicks
By the second round of conference play, the team had made its adjustments.
"Minner's defense is insanely good, but it's just one of those systems that's really hard to figure out. We worked hard on it all year," Yancey said. "Once it really clicked, there's not much most teams can do about it."
On Feb. 15, 2010, the Saints defeated Paul Quinn College 69-58, forcing 26 turnovers and generating 16 steals, including four from Manning and three from Hampton. Over the next two games, the Saints avenged earlier losses to the University of the Southwest (winning 75-70) and Wiley College (78-74 in overtime), getting a combined 27 steals and forcing 54 turnovers.
"We started to bond more and play better as a team," Manning said. "We settled into the right roles on the team and started clicking."
"We were finally able to execute Minner's defense," Hampton said. "Once you get that third win, you get more confident and find more momentum and realize you're capable of winning every time out."
It was the second game against Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) on Feb. 25 that caught Coach Minner's attention. Just two weeks earlier, SAGU handed OLLU its most crushing defeat in RRAC play, holding the Saints to just 36 points. In the rematch, Manning had 14 points and five of the Saints' 16 steals to win 59-55.
"That's the one that stands out to me. We'd gone to their gym and gotten crushed. We barely scored 30 points. They were good, they made the National Tournament that year," Minner said. "In that moment, we were like, 'wait a minute, we can do this now.' And then we beat Texas Wesleyan University and Jarvis Christian College."
Head Coach Christopher Minner became head coach in the 2012-2013 season.
The foundations laid
The Saints ended the season on a six-game winning streak before losing to Langston University in the RRAC Tournament semifinals, finishing the season 17-15, and 12-8 in conference play.
More importantly, they established the foundations of the identity that would carry the team through most of this decade—and relationships that will last beyond that.
"To come in with a new team and win more games than you lose, then get to the semifinals of the conference tournament, that was really a great way to establish the program," Minner said. "They deserve a lot of credit for getting us off the ground in such a successful manner."
Friendships remain, with teammates attending weddings and other life events. And Minner's mentorship continues with some of them to this day.
"I'll never turn Minner red, but I've definitely taken away from his style of coaching," Yancey joked briefly before turning serious. "He was available to us. I trusted him. He challenged us, got up into our faces, but he made it very clear who he is when he's coaching wasn't who he was as a person. He definitely helped me get through that year.
"I can only hope my players will respect me years later as much as I do Minner right now."
The legacy continues
Inaugural Head Coach Daryl Vincent left after one season, and he was replaced by Rusty Kennedy, who coached the Saints for two seasons. He led the team to their first trip to nationals after shocking the conference with a tournament title in 2012. Kennedy left for a job in New Mexico after that, and Minner took over as head coach, a position he's held five seasons, including two that garnered him two RRAC Coach of the Year (2014-2015 and 2015-2016) honors, recognition as a Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) NAIA National Coach of the Year Finalist (2014-2015) and the WBCA NAIA National Coach of the Year trophy (2015-2016).
Minner said, "It's just the way I've always coached. I don't coach differently to men or women, I coach to athletes. If there's high expectations, you'll get high demand and that's really the only way to recruit the right players. I guess, if I were to get a little more tan, I wouldn't look quite as red."
The players might be different now and the expectations higher, but the controlled and turbulent sounds of OLLU basketball remain, along with the blur of Saints' reflex blue—with just a touch of Minner red.
Our Lady of the Lake University is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016-2017 as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The University began competing in the NAIA in men's soccer and volleyball in 2007. A year later, they added women's soccer, golf and tennis. In 2009, the Saints began competing in cross-country, softball and basketball. In 2014, OLLU added two more sports — baseball and track and field. There are now 13 intercollegiate athletic teams at OLLU. All athletic alumni and up to two family members will receive free admission to basketball and volleyball games throughout the season. Baseball is not included in this special offer. All other home games are free and open to the public.