Zias coach trying to change culture

By Larry Booker: FNM correspondent

First-year Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball coach Lindsey Wilson brings a strong pedigree of success to the job.

A former Lone Star Conference player at Southeastern Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma, Wilson says she’s quite happy with the reception she’s received in Portales.

“ENMU is great,” said Wilson, who spent the past five years as an assistant coach at Division I Texas-Arlington and helped the Mavericks reach the NCAA tournament in 2007 and the Women’s NIT in 2008. “(Portales is) a nice small town.

“I think it’s probably the nicest place I’ve ever lived. They’ll hold the door open for you, and they always want to know how everything’s going.”

The Zias have a tough season opener today, hosting sixth-ranked Fort Lewis in a 7:30 p.m. start at Greyhound Arena.

It’s been nearly a decade since the ENMU women’s program has qualified for postseason play, and Wilson is looking to change that.

“It’s about changing the culture and environment,” she said. “You put in the hard work you get good results. They have to put the time in on their own. They have to want to go hard and get better everyday.”

ENMU went 5-21 last season under Linden Weese, and was seventh in the then-eight-team-LSC South Division at 3-11. The Zias were picked for last in the revamped 11-team league this year.

Wilson said the players are adjusting to a different system and different coaching style.

“We changed everything,” she said.

What the Zias should be able to rely on is the presence of 5-foot-10 senior forward Precious Herrin of Shreveport, La., and 5-8 senior point gaurd Tori Northcutt of Clovis, who could be two of the better players in the LSC.

Herrin, who averaged 16.2 points and 5.7 rebounds last season, was a first-team All-South choice and the division’s newcomer of the year. Northcutt, a two-time All-South honorable mention selection, averaged 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 2009-10.

Northcutt, who missed the 2010-11 campaign due to a knee injury, holds ENMU single-game and single-season assist records, and is 29 away from Stephanie Brockman’s school career record of 461.

“I don’t think we should’ve been picked last,” Herrin said. “We have solid players. I think we’re more athletic than last year.

“We have to play smart and be on (the same) page. We have to execute.”

Wilson said the Zias will attack with an up-tempo style of play to take advantage of their speed and quickness against taller teams. Defensively, Wilson plans to implements a combination of man-to-man, zone, and trap schemes.

“We’re pretty small, but we have a really good work ethic,” said 5-foot-6 senior guard Kiara Tate. “We will not be tired. We’re going to be able to get up and down the court.”

Wilson points to experience as major factor this year. Seven returnees are joined by five freshmen.

“Our returners will probably do the most as our freshman adjust from high school to college,” she said.

Senior guard Karen Grant of Lubbock and junior guard Tara Johnson of Portales will team alongside Tate, the 2011 team leader in steals, and Northcutt.

Senior guards Hannah Altheide of El Paso and Lace Clark of Keene, Texas, have registered significant minutes in the past and are expected to be big contributors this season. Herrin remains the presence on the low post.

“We’ve been jelling really well this year and I’m looking forward to playing with this group of girls,” Altheide said.

Wilson isn’t concerned about preseason polls or preseason rankings when it comes to predicting her team’s performance this season.

“Every day and every practice we’re getting better, and that’s exciting to see,” she said. “They’ve been putting in the work, so you should see the results.”