Last season was a breakthrough year for women’s basketball.
In the final season as UT Pan American, the team’s 19 wins were the most in program history. Coach Larry Tidwell’s team appeared in the Western Athletic Conference championship game in Las Vegas and a 20th win on the campaign would have sent his players on their way to the NCAA tournament.
Despite a loss in the conference championship, the Broncs were invited to the Women’s Basketball Invitational, where a first- round loss to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette ended the historic season.
“We were very pleased with the way the year went, we enjoyed it,” said Tidwell, who is starting his third year at the helm of women’s basketball. “But, we got right back after it in the first week of April preparing for this year.”
Now all of the success of 2014-15 is in the rearview mirror and the only thing that can be extracted from last year is experience. Seven players return as Vaqueros after being apartoftherunfromayear ago. Those seven will be partly responsible for showing the ropes to the eight true freshmen added to the roster this year.
Tidwell stressed the importance of contributions from young players who are just coming on board.
“The success of our program will be determined a lot by how these freshmen handle certain situations,” said the coach, who has been in the college ranks since 1992. “We just wanna make sure that they’re ready to handle it when their time comes. They’ve got to be a contributing factor if we’re gonna try to win anything early, and as they gain more experience if we want to win anything late.”
Tidwell will look again for lots of offense from All-WAC guard Shawnte’ Goff. Her 13.5 PPG in conference play was fifth best in the conference. The junior from the central Texas city of Copperas Cove was already named to the preseason all- conference team. Goff looks to start for a third straight season and her leadership shows through attitude about success.
“We did have a postseason appearance in the WBI, but that wasn’t our ultimate goal,” the 5-foot-8-inch guard said.“The WAC coaches picked us fourth and that’s fine. We’re definitely used to being the underdogs. We’re just trying to win games, we’re not trying to prove anything to anybody. Everything is gonna beinour actions.”
Rickell Preston, the guard from Louisiana, is gearing up for her last season. The senior, whose first year was in 2012- 13, said despite the emotions she’s playing the game like she always has.
“I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m anxious,” Preston said. “But, at the same time, I feel like it’s a regular season and I’m going to go out there, play and do my best like I’ve done every year.”
Preston represents the only senior presence on a young team that will spend a lot of the time away from the Rio Grande Valley. She feels like this team is well-prepared for the challenge.
“Last year, we had a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” Preston said of the squad. “But now I feel like we are way more athletic; we have a lot of people that can score this year. We’re gonna work hard and compete and do everything possible. I feel like this year is gonna be a good year.”
The 2015-16 season is a noticeably road-heavy year. Eighteen of 19 games will happen away from the Fieldhouse. The road journeys will have the team up against the likes of Texas Christian University, Oklahoma State University, Kansas State University and the University of Houston during nonconference.
“It’s not going to do anything but make us better,” Goff said of the tough schedule they have. “Irecallatimelastyearagainst Texas Tech. We only lost by a few points, and Texas A&M only two points. That’s just proof that it’s more than OK. We go in here and get experience, we go in there looking to win and make a statement.”
The Vaqueros’ first opportunity to begin making that statement comes against Eastern Carolina University in the Islanders Classic tournamentNov.13inCorpus Christi. Their home opener is a few days later on Nov. 16 against Concordia University.