The N.C. Central University’s Lady Eagles start their season Monday with one mindset: all in. Metaphorically they wear it on their sleeves, literally on their wrists with their “All In” wristbands.
The Lady Eagles are coming off a tough 7-22 regular season and an equally disappointing 5-11 in conference. This year, the team is ranked 11th in the MEAC conference by women’s basketball coaches and sports information directors. Lady Eagle head coach Vanessa Taylor said the team is better than its 11th place ranking.
“We’re just committed to playing hard every night when we begin to play in that conference,” Taylor said. “The way that you deal with that is by going out, preparing, and being ready to play on a nightly basis in a highly competitive MEAC conference,” she said. “And that is our full intention. And at the end of the day we will not be number 11.”
The Lady Eagles have 13 student-athletes on the team, seven of whom are returning from last year. And three of them are returning with significant amounts of playing time. Senior forward Tisha Dixon, who has played the most division one games, is among them. Last season, Dixon played in 23 games despite fighting injury. She averaged 6.2 point and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Dixon also said she also does not believe their team is 11th in the MEAC and that the team now has something to prove. “We were picked 11th last year, and we didn’t finish 11, so I don’t know why we were picked 11th,” Dixon said.
Dixon said her goal this year is to lead the team and help her teammates come together as sisters. She said she wants to inspire her teammates to do their part and follow the path that Coach Taylor has established for the team.
Dixon said she wants to be a mentor for her teammates on and off the court. “Coming from high school and transitioning to college is very difficult,” she said. “It’s nowhere near the same level of players,” Dixon said.
“I was a star player in high school, and coming here … I feel like I am a mentor. So it’s more me leading them down the right path than me turning them away.”
Coach Taylor said that this year’s team has a chemistry and a special connection developed during the recruitment. When the new recruits came for their visits, they talked about creating a family environment at NCCU, about wanting to go somewhere with their game, and about having an impact. Taylor said she and the coaches fell in love with the young recruits because of their talent, both academic and athletic, and their characters.
During practice competitions Coach Taylor advised the players that each one of them needs to perform at a level that makes it difficult for her and the staff to select who plays in each 40 minutes of a game. “And so I think each one of them has worked tremendously hard to do that on a daily basis.”
Another change for the Lady Eagles comes in the form of new assistant coach L’Tona Lamonte. Lamonte has spent 13 years in division one athletics. She has North Carolina ties, serving as assistant head coach at Western Carolina University, and as the director of basketball operations at North Carolina State University. Coach Taylor said that Lamonte’s passion came across from the very first time they spoke. “Her energy, personality, demeanor and desire makes her a great fit,” said Taylor.
The Lady Eagles begin their 2015-2016 campaign at home on Monday, Nov. 16 against the Campbell University Camels of the Big South Conference.