Augusta State’s jubilation of earning a national ranking also came with the harsh reality of an early-morning wake-up call.
For the first time in nine seasons – and just three years removed from the worst season in women’s basketball history at the school, when the team went 1-26 – the Lady Jaguars are ranked No. 24 in Division II. They learned the news Tuesday afternoon, went to practice, left Christenberry Fieldhouse and returned for a 6:15 a.m. Wednesday practice.
“This is a great accomplishment for our girls, but it’s not something we can hang our hat on,” Augusta State third-year coach Nate Teymer said. “We need to treat this as being as normal.”
Things haven’t been normal for this program since Greg Wilson stepped down as head coach after nine seasons to become the area director of the Fellowship of Student Athletes. In the 2003-04 season, Wilson led the Lady Jaguars to their first national ranking, a trip to the Elite Eight and a school record 24-8 campaign. In his final season in 2007-08, Wilson helped Augusta State win 20 games and capture a share of the Peach Belt Conference regular season title.
Since then, the Lady Jaguars have suffered four consecutive losing seasons. But this year’s squad, off to a school-record 14-2 start, has turned it all around. While Augusta State has struggled at times to generate offense, it leads the league in scoring defense (52.1), holding teams to a league-best 33 percent shooting from the field against their match-up zone.
“We’re just trying to figure out what we need to do to keep getting better,” Teymer said. “When you’re winning it masks what you’re not doing well.”
After going 12-15 last season, Teymer added senior center Taylor Ayers, a Laney graduate and Virginia Tech transfer. Ayers has clogged up the paint, averaging 11.6 points and 7.5 boards with 36 blocks.
Along with Ayers, forwards Tiffany Jaecks and Laci Schreiber have combined for 11.6 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. Becky Newhouse, a 5-foot-7 guard, is second on the team in rebounding (5.6 average) and owns a team-best 41 offensive boards.
In the backcourt, guard Tiffany White is shooting just 33 percent from the field, but she adds team highs in assists (76) and steals (63). Guard Tanchelle Hollingsworth has made 26 3-pointers on 27 percent shooting, but she, like White, is a stout defender. And guards Brooke McCants and Eryka Menzies are contributing off the bench.
“The big thing is we want them to play hard,” said Teymer, whose team is 6-1 since leading scorer Jemimah Ashby went down with a knee injury. Ashby’s expected to return in two weeks. “If they play hard things will take care of themselves.”
The thing that has them most excited is the national ranking and their first top-25 matchup, against No. 6 USC Aiken at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at home. But first, Augusta State will test out its new ranking on the road tonight at Armstrong Atlantic State.
“We can’t lose sight of the Armstrong game, because if we win that game that makes the one against Aiken even bigger,” Teymer said. “We said Armstrong about 900 times in practice (Tuesday). I think their focus is on Armstrong.”