By Mickey Winfield: PNT staff writer
A quick glance at the ENMU Zia basketball team’s roster would reveal that the team has six seniors returning, including four starters, so you might assume that this is a veteran team with girls who have played several minutes together.
That’s perfectly reasonable to assume, but you’d be wrong.
Throw into the mix a first-year head coach, and the Zias are a team full of experienced players, with little experience playing together.
Linden Weese takes over a Zias squad that went just 11-17 last season (3-11, LSC South) finishing seventh out of eight teams. And in the LSC preseason women’s basketball poll, the Zias were picked to once again finish seventh.
Weese says the injury bug was passed around the locker room last season, and because of the untimely nature of several serious knee injuries, many of his veterans haven’t played with each other.
“We’re really not (experienced) because of the injuries all of these kids have had,” Weese said. “We’ve got three that are coming off knee injuries from last year and because of that they just never have played that much together.”
Senior forward Elizabeth Richards from Texico found herself on the business end of one of those untimely knee injuries (an ACL tear) last December, and she says that the Zias must work hard to gel into a successful team.
“I think we all know each others strengths and weaknesses. We have not played together a lot,” Richards said. “But I think we’re going to be OK, because we respect each other, and we respect our coaches and we work hard.”
Weese agrees. He comes to Portales after a 23-year span as an assistant coach with a very successful Texas Tech women’s basketball team. Eastern New Mexico is his first head coaching job, and he likes what he has to work with.
“I think we’re pretty talented, I really do. Their work ethic has been great, I just think we have to play some minutes together, and get our timing down and I think we’ll be a pretty good basketball team at the end of the season.”
Weese says the Zias will offer a fast, pressure offense, looking to create and take open shots.
“We like to get the ball and run it right at you as quick as we can,” Weese said. “The first good shot that we’re comfortable with we’re going to try to pull the trigger on it and then turn around, try to get it back and do it again.”
When the Zias are on defense, expect tight man-to-man coverage.
“We will (press) some, our primary defense will be man, and we’ll play some zone as well.”
Along with the battle-tested seniors, the Zias also have several new faces, one of which will probably be familiar to Portales basketball fans. Former Lady Ram Megan Kabrick helped the Portales girls win several state championships, and she says the positive atmosphere surrounding practices may help the Zias get back on track.
“(Coach Weese) comes into the gym and he just gives off this vibe, he makes us want to be here, and has enthusiasm, its awesome,” Kabrick said. “I think a positive attitude will help anybody succeed.”
The positive attitude clearly trickles down to everybody on the team, and despite their recent slump, Richards spoke up about the Zias chances in a tough Lone Star Conference South Division.
“We want to definitely have a winning season, at least,” Richards said. “I think we want it more this year, than we have in any of the other years, and we’re working much harder.”
The Zias hit the court in their season opener Friday night at Oklahoma Panhandle State, before returning to Portales for their home opener against cross-state rival New Mexico Highlands Tuesday night at Greyhound Arena. Weese believes his women will be ready.
“They’ll be ready to go,” Weese said. “They’ve been working hard on their physical conditioning and if practice is any indicator, then I think they’ll definitely be ready.”