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EMCC women make nervous national debut

Forgive the East Mississippi Community College Lady Lions forbeing a little nervous. They were making their first appearancesince 1978 in the NJCAA National Basketball Tournament.

Staged in the 7,000-seat Bicentennial Center located in Salina,Kan., the 2009 national tourney features 16 teams from across thenation. EMCC caught undefeated (31-0) and third-ranked WaltersState of Morristown, Tenn. in Wednesday’s opening round andabsorbed a 63-49 setback. The Lady Lions shot a cold 29 percentfrom the field and suffered 24 turnovers.

It wasn’t pretty. The Walters State Lady Senators had 21turnovers but managed to shoot 50 percent from the field.

Angelique Burtts, EMCC’s 5-foot-11 standout, was the only playerin double digits for the Lions, scoring 10 points and grabbing 11rebounds. She has signed with Georgia State.

The Lions (24-6), still alive in the false double-eliminationbracket, meet Sheridan, Wy. today in the consolation round.Sheridan was waxed by No. 4 seed Chipola (Fla.) 86-47Wednesday.

The tournament’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, Jefferson (Mo.) andCentral Arizona, both 32-0, were opening round winners. Jeffersonjumped on Highland (Ill.) 104-55 and Central Arizona handled MiddleGeorgia 83-66.

The Lions face an uphill battle the rest of the way but theycould still make a strong showing. In 1978, they were runners-up toPanola (Texas) in the national title game. EM coach SharonThompson, a former All-SEC Mississippi State standout, mustmotivate her team to play hard the rest of the way.

Burtts had been the catalyst when EM upset ninth-ranked Co-Lin52-43 two weeks ago in the Region 23 championship game, gaining aberth in the nationals. She had 20 points and 18 rebounds.

For sure, that was an ugly game. The Lady Wolves shot anincredible, ice-cold 19 percent from the field in the first halfand 23 percent for the game. They were outrebounded 44-34 andcommitted 13 turnovers.

Runner-up in the region and the state tournament, Co-Lindeserved a better fate but two sub-par title games were decisive.For the record, the Wolves had beaten EM twice during the regularseason, both by 19-point margins.

Veteran Co-Lin coach Gwyn Young was disappointed by the defeatsbut remained proud of his team for winning the South Division titleand posting a 26-4 worksheet.

During the ride home from the regional held at MississippiCollege in Clinton, Young contemplated the future. He will bestarting his 34th season at Co-Lin and is recognized as the secondwinningest active coach among NJCAA women’s coaches.

Nowadays, recruiting is the secret to success on the collegelevel. Many of the teams in the national tourney recruit playersfrom around the world. It’s not unusual to see two moreinternational players in the starting lineup.

Personally speaking, neither EM nor Co-Lin appeared strongenough to make a legitimate run at a national championship. Theylacked consistent shooting from the perimeter. Most of all, theyneeded a powerful post player who can go get those rebounds and putthem in the hoop.

Co-Lin claimed an outstanding center in 5-10 Erica (E-Train)Trahan when they won the regional and went to the nationals 3 yearsago, finishing sixth. Trahan, a Baton Rouge product, had the sizeand strength to operate in the paint. She could also sink the softjump shot from the 15-foot distance when opponents doubled up ondefending the lane.

Trahan played for Jackson State after she finished atCo-Lin.

Another standout on that 2007 Co-Lin team was playmaker NikkiWilliams, a 5-5 guard from White Castle, La. She was blessed withspeed and quickness. She also could light it up from 3-point rangeas evidenced by her 30-point outburst in the opening round of thenational tourney.

Williams wound up signing with Lamar University in Beaumont,Tex. She was one of three Lady Cardinals named to the All-SouthlandConference Team last week. In two seasons, she has carved her namein the career-record books for the Cardinals, cracking the Top Tenin 5 different categories.

She ranked third in school history in 3-point field goals made.She is tied for fourth in free throw shooting percentage (79.5).She is fifth in assists with 243 and 10th in steals with 145.

In the Southland Conference Tournament, Lamar advanced to thesemifinals, losing 67-62 to No. 1 seed Texas-Arlington. The lossleft Lamar at 20-11 on the year.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O. BOX551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mail sports@dailyleader.com