SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 23, 2019) – Members of this season's Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) women's basketball team made history last year with a Fab Four finish in the NAIA National Championship Tournament – the best finish for any team in OLLU history. Expectations are high for a repeat of another successful season, according to first-year Head Coach Stacy Stephens.
"We expect to win here. We expect to compete for championships here. We expect to get to the national tournament with women's basketball here at Our Lady of the Lake."
Stephens took over the program in the summer after long-time coach Christopher Minner left to become an assistant coach at the University of North Texas.
"I learned great things from Coach Minner and I really appreciate all he taught me. I feel ready for the challenges, and I'm just excited for the year to start more than almost anything else," Stephens said.
Stephens had been the Saints assistant coach since 2017 after a three-year stint as an assistant coach at NCAA Sam Houston State University. Before that, she was a special assistant at the University of Texas at Austin after an illustrious career with the Longhorns. In 2017, she was inducted into the UT Athletics Women's Hall of Honor, and next year, she will become part of the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame for her achievements at Winnsboro High School.
Joining Stephens as assistant coach is Patty Medina, who comes to OLLU after three years as a collegiate head coach. She spent a year at Westcliff University in Irvine, Calif., and two years at Bethesda University in Anaheim, Calif. Medina, who was born in Sonora, Mexico, grew up in San Diego, Calif.
"She has a lot of recruiting connections throughout California," Stephens said. "She has a great way of connecting with the [women]. She is a very big asset to have on board on staff."
History of excellence
The Saints' 10 previous seasons have been packed with many team and individual successes. In their inaugural season in 2009, they finished with a 12-8 Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) record, earning their first of 10 trips to the conference tournament. The following two seasons, the Saints logged a combined conference regular-season record of 34-12, plus a postseason title that took them to their first of eight trips to the NAIA Championships. From 2012-2019, the Saints have won the conference regular season titles six out of seven times and the tournament three out of seven times. Their eight trips to nationals include four first-round finishes, three round-of-16 finishes and one Fab Four finish.
Summary of the conference
The conference released its 2019-2020 preseason poll in mid-October, and the Saints have been picked to finish first among 10 teams. They received 88 points, followed by LSU-Alexandria (LSUA) with 75 points, LSU-Shreveport (LSUS) with 74 points, Huston-Tillotson University (HTU) with 57 points, Paul Quinn College (PQC) with 54 points, Wiley College with 44 points, Texas College with 30 points, the University of the Southwest (USW) with 29 points, Texas A&M University – Texarkana (TAMUT) with 25 points and Jarvis Christian College (JCC) with 19 points.
Last season, the Saints finished two games ahead of LSUA with an overall 28-7 record and 16-2 in the conference. LSUA marked a 22-8 overall record and 14-4 in the conference, followed by PQC at 20-9/13-5, LSUS at 15-13/11-7, HTU at 16-10/10-8, University of St. Thomas (left the NAIA this year) at 11-15/8-10), Texas at 8-19/6-12, Wiley at 8-19/6-12, USW at 8-17/5-13 and JCC at 1-28/1-17.
In the postseason, the Saints were the No. 1 seed, followed by LSUA, LSUS, HTU, St. Thomas and Wiley. In the championship game, the Saints defeated LSUS 91-68 to move on to nationals.
In the 2019-2020 NAIA DI Women's Basketball Coaches' Top 25 Preseason Poll, the Saints improved to No. 6 after finishing out last year ranked No. 12. The No. 6 preseason ranking is the second-highest for the Saints. In the preseason of 2016-2017, they were ranked No. 3.
The Saints have made the Top 25 Poll every year since 2012-2013. Their highest ranking was No. 1 (six consecutive weeks) in the 2015-2016 season. Altogether, they have earned top-five rankings 11 times, top 10 rankings (6th-10th) 12 times, top 15 (11th-15th) rankings 26 times and top 25 (16th-25th) rankings 27 times. Since 2012, they have never not been ranked.
Dominant in stats
In the NAIA, the Saints were in the top 10 on several categories at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season:
· No. 1: scoring offense/game (91.171)
· No. 1: total scoring offense (3,191)
· No. 3: total 3FGM (294)
· No. 3: turnover margin (8.714)
· No. 3: FT% (.782)
· No. 3: steals (485)
· No. 4: 3FG% (.372)
· No. 6: steals/game (13.857)
· No. 6: scoring margin (20.400)
· No. 7: assists (543)
· No. 9: 3FGM/game (8.400)
Individuals were also among the best in the NAIA:
· Jamia Miller (SR/Odessa, Texas) – No. 1 in 3FG% (.474)
· Kasey Saldana (SR/San Antonio, Texas) – No. 3 in FT% (.887)
· Destinee King – No. 6 in rebounds (343)
In the RRAC, the team and players were among the best in the following categories:
· No. 1: scoring offense (3,191/91.17)
· No. 1: assists/game
· No. 1: FG% offense (.436)
· No. 1: Miller in 3FG% (.474)
· No. 1: Saldana in FT% (.887)
· No. 1: King in total rebounds (343)
· No. 2: Saldana in 3FGM/game (88/3.23)
· No. 2: Lena Wilson (SR/Converse, Texas) in FT% (.828)
· No. 2: Miller in 3FGM/game (65/1.86)
· No. 4: scoring defense (2,477/70.77)
· No. 4: FG% defense (.401)
· No. 4: Saldana in 3FG% (.359)
· No. 5: total rebound offense/game (40.80)
· No. 5: Saldana in scoring/game (570/14.63)
· No. 7: Wilson in scoring/game (469/14.21)
Nonconference schedule overview
The Saints begin one of the toughest schedules in the country on Nov. 3 against NCAA D2 Angelo State University. The scrimmage marks the first meeting between both teams.
The women will participate in the Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) Classic Nov. 8-9 with games against SAGU (8-1) and John Brown University (first matchup).
Their home game on Nov. 15 will be the first time the team has played on its home turf since Feb. 23, 2019. The Saints welcome Wayland Baptist University (5-3), the No. 5 ranked team in the NAIA. The last time the two teams met was at nationals when the Saints knocked the Flying Queens out of the tournament with a 96-93 win in the round of 16.
The Saints will head out to California for the Westmont Classic, where they will play No. 8 Westmont College (first matchup) on Nov. 22 and No. 4 The Master's University (0-1) on Nov. 23.
The annual Halo Classic will take place Nov. 29-30, with the Saints hosting No. 3 Oklahoma City University (3-5), Keiser University (not playing each other) and Oklahoma Panhandle State University (first matchup).
The Saints will begin their conference schedule on Dec. 5 against PQC (19-1) in Dallas and on Dec. 7 against USW (19-1) in Hobbs, N.M.
The team will make its annual trip to the Frontier Classic in Phoenix, Ariz., Dec. 18-20. They will face No. 7 Carroll College (0-1), No. 18 Rocky Mountain College (1-0) and Montana Tech of the University of Montana (1-0).
The Saints travel to Nacogdoches, Texas, for an exhibition against NCAA D1 Stephen F. Austin State University (0-1) on Dec. 29. They will start the New Year with a trip to New Orleans for games against Southern University of New Orleans (1-0) on Jan. 3 and Dillard University (3-1) on Jan. 4.
The women will concentrate on their RRAC schedule through the rest of the season. They host LSUS (15-12) Jan. 9 and No. 23 LSUA (9-1) on Jan. 11. The Saints will travel to Texarkana to play conference and women's basketball newcomer TAMUT on Jan. 16. On the 18th, they take on Wiley (17-5) in Marshall, Texas, and on the 25th, they will face HTU (24-1) in Austin, Texas.
Saints fans will enjoy two conference matches in a row as the team begins its second round of conference games. First, the women will host PQC on Jan. 30 and USW on Feb. 1. They will play Texas College on Feb. 6 in Tyler, Texas, and JCC on Feb. 8 in Hawkins, Texas. The team will travel to Louisiana for a game against LSUS on Feb. 13 and LSUA on Feb. 15.
The Saints will play their final three games at home beginning with TAMUT on Feb. 20. On Feb. 22, they will play Wiley, and on Feb. 29, HTU. During this game, the university will honor seniors Irma Jean Ealy (SR/San Diego, Calif.), Jamia Miller, Kasey Saldana and Lena Wilson.
Stephens said, "We lost three key players from last year: Patience Okpe, an extremely talented player who lost her appeal for another season of play by NAIA; Regina Sheffield, a very competitive player, who rebounded, played hard every day and was the conference's defensive player of the year; and Destinee King, an NAIA Third Team All-American, who was extremely athletic and hard to guard."
Okpe received NAIA All-Tournament, RRAC All-Tournament and All-Conference Second Team honors last year. Sheffield was also named to the All-Conference First-Team. King received NAIA All-Tournament and All-Conference First-Team honors.
"I am proud that all seniors (King, Okpe, Sheffield, Mikki Flores and Brianna Henson) from last year's team are on track to graduate, ending both their athletic and academic careers at OLLU," Stephens commented.
"This year's team brings back Lena Wilson, Kasey Saldana, Jamia Miller and Dezeree White (SO/Houston, Texas)," Stephens stated. "They all played significant minutes last season. I am happy to have this nucleus of players back and excited about the leadership and commitment they bring in to practice every day. I am also excited about the progress and have high expectations for Alexis White (SO/Houston, Texas) and Zerina Shatri (JR/Prishtine, Kosovo) as we enter this season, and they continually show their growth on the court."
Four-year senior Wilson has accumulated 953 points and 124 steals. Last season, she was named to the NAIA All-America Honorable Mention Team, the RRAC All-Conference First Team and the RRAC All-Tournament Team as the MVP.
Four-year senior Saldana became a member of the Saints 1,000-Point Club last year, finishing with 1,024 points. She averaged 14.6 points per game last year and has added a career 132 steals and 137 assists. In 2018-2019, Saldana was named to the NAIA All-America Honorable Mention Team, All-Conference First Team and Conference All-Tournament Team.
Second-year senior Miller shot 47.4 percent from three and tallied 47 rebounds, 32 steals and 23 assists while playing in 35 games.
In her second year, White played significant minutes and continued to improve throughout the season. She averaged 7.6 points/game and 3.9 rebounds/game in only 17.4 minutes of play. Last season, White was named to the All-Conference Honorable Mention Team.
"We are bringing in 10 new players, and they all bring unique skills and are offensive and defensive weapons to our team that at every practice, it is exciting to see how the team mixes and grows together," commented Stephens.
Stephens' newcomers include freshmen Tiffany Lopez (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Angeline Sanchez (FR/Cibolo, Texas), Tani Talamantez (FR/McAllen, Texas) and Natalia Trevino (FR/Laredo, Texas); sophomore Emma Rico (SO/San Antonio, Texas); and juniors Keviona Barber (JR/Chicago, Illinois), Emiko Hemphill (JR/San Antonio, Texas), Sarah Mgbeike (JR/Richmond, Texas), Suzuna Shoji (JR/Ibaraki, Japan) and Alexandra Strawhorn (JR/Kyneton, Victoria, Australia)e.
Sarah Mgbeike is a 6'2" transfer from Kilgore College. While there, she averaged 12.9 points/game and 11 rebounds/game.
Emiko Hemphill is a forward from Coastal Bend College. She was an All-Conference Honorable Mention while averaging 9.6 points/game and 11.5 rebounds/game.
Stephens said, "I believe that Sarah and Emiko bring a high level of athleticism, scoring and rebounding to the court that will fit our style of play easily."
Suzuna Shoji is a First-Team All-Conference player from Merced College.
Keviona Barber is a two-time All-Conference player from Cisco College, where she averaged 15.3 points/game, shooting 31.6 percent from three and averaging 5.9 assists/game.
Angeline Sanchez was a McDonald's All-American nominee. She was also named to the Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) First-Team All-State Team and was the San Antonio Player of the Week from Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas. Sanchez averaged 11 points/game and tallied more than 200 assists in the two years she played varsity.
Stephens said, "Suzuna, Keviona and Angeline are working hard and competing day in and day out for our point guard and small forward positions, and they all bring the intensity needed to be successful in our conference every day."
Alexandra Strawhorne comes to OLLU from Kilgore College, where she was a 34 percent 3-point shooter. She was a top player and MVP for her high school team in Kyneton, Victoria, Australia.
Natalia Trevino hails from Laredo, Texas, where she played for United High School. She was the 2018-2019 29-6A MVP and TABC All-Region, and she scored more than 2,400 points in high school.
Tani Talamantez, a McAllen, Texas, native played at Memorial High School. While in her senior season, she was selected to the TGCA 6A All-State Team and the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC) All-Region Team. She was named The McAllen Monitor's Player of the Year, and she was her team's MVP.
"Alexandra, Natalia and Tani are all excellent shooters, who are willing to do whatever it takes to help our team succeed," Stephens commented. "Both Alex and Nat are working in multiple positions to make sure we have the best line ups for our team and style of play."
Tiffany Lopez "is a true freshman, who has natural instincts for the ball, and she rebounds," Stephens said. She is a graduate of Memorial High School in San Antonio, where she scored more than 1,000 points, was named to the San Antonio Area Association of Basketball Coaches (SAAABC) All-Star Team and was First-Team All-District.
Emma Rico was the National Christian HomeSchool Basketball Championships (NCHBC) Point Guard of the Year in 2018 and the NCHBC Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018. She received the San Antonio College Academic Leadership Award in 2019.
"Our team is very competitive and getting better daily. We work each day to make our last possession, our last pass and our last moment on the court to be our best moments. We want to be better at the end of every game than at the beginning. We want to be better at the end of the season than at the beginning. We always want our last one to be our best one in every aspect of our game," Stephens stated.
Message to community
"People need to come out and watch some of the best basketball in San Antonio. These [women] work hard. Last season we averaged scoring 90-plus points a game. A lot of the stereotypes of women's basketball are not true here at Our Lady of the Lake, and I think people really need to come check it out. If you come to one game, you'll want to come to more," Stephens concluded.
John Paul will be the in-game announcer for his first season. The live-streaming "Voice of the Saints" Michael Thompson will return to call all home games.
Admission charge for all home games is $5 for adults, $3 for children, 7-17, and free for those younger than seven.
Stay up-to-date with the Saints on social media by utilizing #OLLUHoops.