Despite the record, East Tennessee State women’s basketball coach Karen Kemp thinks she has some pretty good players. She just doesn’t have a very good team right now.
The Lady Bucs hit the road for Mercer on Wednesday with a 5-16 record. They’ve lost five of their last six games and are seventh in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“This team, one on one, may be better than anybody else in the league,” said Kemp. “But we haven’t learned to play as a team. That’s what has hurt us all year.”
It’s been a fairly steep drop-off from the last four years. The Lady Bucs won at least 20 games and made NCAA tournament appearances for three straight seasons, and still won 19 games last season when they lost in the A-Sun semifinals.
Kemp has tried different combinations this season, but the wins have been few and far between. The first 10 games were all losses.
“I’ve been struggling to find the right mix,” said Kemp. “We do have a lot of people who step up one game and then not show up the next. We’re still looking for a leader.
“It’s disappointing that on Feb. 1 I’m still wondering when we’re going to come together.”
The Lady Bucs have yet to win a game on the road, but they should rectify that in the next few days. Mercer is last in the standings, at 1-10, and Kennesaw State, the team they play on Saturday, is 4-7.
“These are two where we should come back to Johnson City with Ws,” said Kemp. “But you just don’t know. I love this group because they always play hard; they just don’t always play together, and our record shows it.”
Sophomore forward Destiny Mitchell is the only player scoring in double figures, at 10.7. She also leads the team in rebounding (7.9).
Senior guard Natalie Pickwell, the scoring leader most of the season, has seen her average dip into single digits, at 9.6.
n The recent warm weather has been a blessing for the ETSU baseball team.
After a couple of bitter winters in which they were barely able to leave the Dome before opening the season, the Bucs have already had four practices outside since last Friday.
“Everything is usually predicated by Mother Nature, and we’ve been blessed so far,” coach Tony Skole said Wednesday. “We’ve gotten in four really good days of work, and we’ve been able to scrimmage two of those days. I really like the way our pitchers are throwing the ball and the way we’re defending. Usually the pitchers are a little bit ahead at this stage, but we’ve had some guys with good offensive showings.”
The Bucs have been working out at Dobyns-Bennett’s field in Kingsport because their new facility, Thomas Stadium, is still under construction. Cardinal Park, their old home just down the road, is not available either.
“It’s taking a little bit of a toll,” said Skole. “It’s about a 30-minute ride to D-B in a van. We have to wait for their team to get done with their workouts, we practice for a couple of hours, and then the 30-minute ride back. It makes for a long day.”
The coach hopes the travel doesn’t make for a long season. The new field may not be ready for the opening series against Eastern Kentucky on Feb. 17, and construction on the stadium itself will continue on into the spring.
There’s a tentative agreement to use D-B’s field as long as necessary.
“We’ve got five seniors, so we want to get the most out of the new stadium experience for those kids,” said Skole.
n Word came down this week that Jacksonville University will be dropping its men’s and women’s tennis programs at the end of the spring season.
JU president Kerry Romesburg was quoted as saying the decision was strictly financial.
“It was driven completely by the rising cost of athletics in general,” he said, “and an attempt to better focus our limited athletic resources. We realize this is a difficult and unpopular decision, especially since there are many advocates for the program and very few detractors. However, it is the best decision for our university.”
There is no mention of it on the school’s website. Romesburg was quoted on the ZooTennis blog.
Yaser Zaatini, ETSU’s director of tennis, said Wednesday that he heard rumblings that Jacksonville was making the move.
“Apparently that’s a trend for schools that are struggling financially,” said Zaatini, “but I personally don’t see much savings in dropping tennis. We’re not a greatly funded sport, with just 4 ½ scholarships. I would think tennis and golf would both be marquee sports for kids down in Florida.”
n Zaatini was on his way to Georgia, where the Bucs have matches in Athens against Georgia State today and the University of Georgia on Saturday. It’s the continuation of a tough road that has seen them lose their first two matches of the spring schedule, against No. 22 Tulsa and N.C. State, by a combined 8-1 score.
Georgia is ranked No. 4 nationally.
“This is a period of discovering who we really are,” said Zaatini. “I think the bottom line so far is that we haven’t been prepared as a team. We have a couple of pieces ready to go, but most of the guys don’t see the urgency yet. It’s always an uphill battle this time of year.”
The Bucs won’t play a home match until Appalachian State visits on Feb. 25.
n Dave Walker may be moving into retirement, but his track meet will apparently keep going.
ETSU assistant coach Eli Sunquist said Wednesday that the Niswonger Invitational will be back in the Dome for a 35th edition next year.
“It will definitely continue; we’re already in talks about next year,” said Sunquist. “We were a little down on numbers this year – I don’t think we hit quite a thousand for the college athletes – but we probably still had about 1,500 for high school and college combined.
“It was a good meet, definitely the best meet we’ve had as a team to date.”
Walker, the 80-year-old coach who has spent 50 years at ETSU and founded the Invitational, said last week that he’ll be retiring after the outdoor track and field season.
For now, though, he’s still looking ahead to the next meet. That means a 10-hour bus ride to Penn State with about 50 athletes and coaches for the Sykes-Sabock Challenge Cup on Saturday.