Lander team relies on Augusta players

Lander plays tonight in Division II Elite Eight

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Ciara Lyons spent Monday speaking to schoolchildren and eating lunch at the Rainforest Cafe in San Antonio.

Tonight, she heads to work.

One of five players from Augusta on Lander’s roster, Lyons looks to help the Lady Bearcats continue their winning ways when they face Rollins at 9:30 p.m. in the Division II Elite Eight at the Bill Greehey Arena.

After winning the Southeast Regional last week, Lander (24-7) rests three wins away from its first national championship.

“We’re glad to represent Augusta with so many players out there,” Lyons said. “We just have to come down here and play smart and hard. It’s all about who wants it most.”

Lyons, a Glenn Hills graduate and the team’s second-leading scorer (13.5 average), is one of four Augusta seniors looking to win their final three games, including Friday night’s championship game. Guard Jasmine Judge (Hephzibah), who holds the Peach Belt Conference career record for most 3-pointers, is looking to go out a winner along with center Kaylyn Small (Richmond Academy) and guard Kami Phillips (Laney). Freshman guard Ashley Watts (Butler) is the other Augustan on the team.

Despite playing limited minutes this season, Phillips is enjoying her team’s ride. After tearing a ligament in her knee, she missed all of last season, which would’ve been her senior campaign. She thought about not returning, but coach Kevin Pederson told her this team would be special.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to come back,” Phillips said. “I’m glad I did.”

In 2008-09, when Judge, Lyons and Small were freshmen, Lander won the Peach Belt Conference Tournament and advanced to the Division II Tournament. After Phillips transferred in from East Tennessee State for the 2009-10 season, the Lady Bearcats won the Peach Belt regular season title. Last season, Lander set a school record for wins (29) and finished with a No. 6 national ranking.

This season, the Lady Bearcats placed second in the Peach Belt East Division after losing twice to USC Aiken in the regular season. Lander got the best of its rival in the regional semifinal, though, overcoming a double-digit, second-half deficit to upend the Lady Pacers on their home floor. Judge swished the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:33 remaining.

In the regional final, Small had a career night. Usually known for her defensive work, Small posted 19 points and 22 rebounds in a double-overtime win over Wingate.

“We just needed someone to step up,” Small said. “I was just lucky enough to be that person.”

Now, the question is who will be the player who steps up in the Elite Eight? If the Lady Bearcats are going to make a run this week, they’re going to need the Augusta connection to play well.

“This is our last go-round,” Judge said. “Every year at Lander, we’ve accomplished something. Winning the whole thing would be amazing.”


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