Lady Braves can get top seed with win

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

LORMAN &045; When the game tapes finally arrived in the mail, Alcorn head coach Shirley Walker didn’t even get first crack at them.

Then-assistant Nate Kilbert inserted the tape into the VCR to check out this high school player from

Georgia to see if her mom was right. Tnonealyer Powers and her mom were only doing what every ambitious-but-slighted high school athlete does in putting feelers out there, and Walker listened.

Email newsletter signup

Now it’s four years later, and the veteran head coach still has no regrets.

&uot;I talked with her mother one day and said, ‘Send me some film,’&uot; Walker recalled. Coach Kilbert put the tape in and said, ‘Coach, I like the way this young lady moves in the paint.’ She was a little taller than I thought she was. She got in, learned the system and played big for us &045; especially down low being so short.&uot;

But it wasn’t just Powers. The Colbert, Ga., native came in along with a number of freshmen prior to the 2001-02 after the Lady Braves graduated some key players. Among that group were Candace Roberts and LaToya Johnson and a host of others who for whatever reason fell by the wayside.

It’s those three seniors &045; along with two other experienced players on the floor &045; the Lady Braves will lean on heavily down the stretch. A win Saturday at Southern would lock up the No. 1 seed in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament and give those out-going seniors more motivation to go out as champs.

&uot;A lot of people are talking about it,&uot; Powers said. &uot;I’m excited. We’ve just got to stay focused and maintain. Coach tells us every game is a championship game and we have to play like it. We have seniors on the floor, and we know what we have to do in order for us to win.

&uot;That’s a big motivation for me. This is my last chance to pull it out and win a championship.&uot;

The talk may have increased following Monday’s blowout win over second-place Alabama State, but it’s been at least a whisper since the beginning of the season. The Lady Braves have a wealth of experience on the floor in those three seniors along with forward Natasha Dennis &045; who came in with that group but red-shirted &045; and junior college transfer Shikhia Sims at point guard.

The Lady Braves have been to the SWAC tournament five times in Walker’s 27 years there, but they’ve made the NCAA Tournament only twice &045; in 2000 and 2001. Whether or not they get back there will rest on the shoulders of those five experienced starters.

&uot;They seem to have a good attitude about them,&uot; Walker said. &uot;They came here together, and they’re a lot closer. They’ve been drinking out of the same orange juice bowl since they’ve been here. I hope everything will pay off for them. I hope this is what they have in mind &045; they’ve got to finish &045; and hope things work out for us.&uot;

And as seniors, they carry the scars and disappointments of seasons past as motivation. The Lady Braves had a losing record last season &045; Walker’s first in 16 seasons &045; while losing in the first round of the conference tournament. As sophomores, they lost in the second round of the tournament after losing in the first round as freshmen.

That’s only one tournament win to their credit, and that one wasn’t even at Birmingham.

&uot;As a senior, you want to go out as a champion &045; something that nobody can take away from you,&uot; Roberts said. &uot;When we first came in, I would say we knew we had to be together. A lot of freshmen came in with us, and we’re the three that made it through the bad times, the good times and the hard times. That brought us closer together on and off the court. We talked about it back then, too. It’s easy to talk about it, but it’s not easy to do.&uot;

Roberts is the talker of the bunch, Walker said, while Johnson and Powers are less verbal. Powers, Walker said, the team leader of the bunch since she arrived, while Chicago native Sims has provided a spark to the team in her two years after transferring from Fort Scott Community College.

&uot;When I got here, I had to learn the system and pick up the system,&uot; Sims said. &uot;I had to learn pretty fast. It’s up to us. Powers and Roberts have been here four years, and they’ve never won a championship. My team won state in high school, and I’m trying to do something in college before my career is over.&uot;

The big thing standing in the Lady Braves’ way is Southern, a dangerous team at 9-6 in conference and sitting in third place behind Alabama State. Alcorn beat the Lady Jags in the first meeting in Lorman, and now Southern can make a big statement in the rematch by beating the first-place team.

But the Lady Braves come in after playing perhaps their best game in the blowout win over Alabama State Monday.

&uot;It’s still a long way,&uot; Walker said. &uot;We’re going to try to take care of one game at a time. This road trip to Baton Rouge is going to be tough. After I sat there and thought about it, we played bad in areas and decent in areas. But to be honest &045; I’d say that was one of the best games we’ve played this year.&uot;

So with everything on the line Saturday and coming off that impressive win, all Walker has to do is turn to her seniors in a time like this. She’ll talk to the entire team, but each of those five players will take the message and reinforce to everyone what the coach has said since November when she knew this bunch could be special.

Stay focused and get the job done.

&uot;This game is the one to be champions, something we’ve talked about ever since we started out,&uot; Roberts said. &uot;You go through something physically, mentally and emotionally. You’ve got to do it, and at the end it’s going to be worth it.&uot;