By Sean Ditmore/Staff Writer
Tory Bryant, who is used to winning in big ways, has no delusions about the hard work ahead for the Wayland Baptist University Flying Queens as he gets set for his maiden season at the helm.
He’s the 12th head coach of the storied program that has won more than 1,400 games.
Bryant, who posted a 96-19 record, two state TAPPS championship and a third trip to the finals at Lubbock Trinity Christian, took over the Queens in late April.
A late recruiting start put Bryant a bit behind the 8-ball.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re looking forward to playing an exciting and competitive brand of basketball this season,” Bryant said. “We also hope to attract new fans who will help build even more excitement with their support of Flying Queens basketball.”
Only three players will return to the Queens roster, led by 5-8 senior forward Anastasia Okolo of Houston whose 11.1 ppg average ranked just behind 5-7 junior Edite Kresa from Latvia (11.2). Kresa will miss the season after tearing an ACL while playing in the European Youth Championships.
Katie (Donaldson) Benton, a 5-9 senior from Fort Elliott High School, missed several games due to injuries last year but brings back averages of 7.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg and could be a key cog in the team’s hoped-for resurgence from a 12-18 finish.
Erica Rodriguez, a 5-6 freshman guard, who missed all last year due to a torn ACL, returns to the team. Also returning for her senior year is 5-10 Vanita Wright of Shamrock who sat out last season after averaging nine points and seven boards as a junior.
A former assistant at Lubbock Christian, West Texas A&M and UT-Arlington, Bryant managed to sign some top area talent for his program, despite the late start.
Megan Coates was the District 3-4A Co-Player of the Year for second-ranked Amarillo Palo Duro. The 5-3 guard averaged 14.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists during the 2006-2007 season. An All-State, All-Region and All-District honoree her senior season, Coates scored 1,500 points in three years and was a Texas Girls Coaches Association All-Star last summer.
The 2007 Golden Spread All-Star game Most Valuable Player, Karah Gilbert helped the Canyon High Lady Eagles to a Class 3A state championship her senior year. The 5-8 guard averaged seven points and three rebounds, and hit 51 percent of her shots from the field and 80 percent of her free throws.
Staci Murphree, a 6-0 post, averaged 13 points and five rebounds during her final season at Friona High. A TGCA Class 2A All-State selection and a TABC All-Region honoree, she was the Co-MVP of District 2-2A and helped lead the Lady Chieftains to the area round of the playoffs.
Shelby Conrad is a 5-7 point guard who averaged 11.3 points, four rebounds, five assists and four steals for Claude High School last season. A four-time All-District honoree who scored more than 1,400 points during her career, she was the 2007 District Most Valuable Player, and was a Golden Spread All-Star and a TGCA All-State selection. Conrad also earned TABC Academic All-State laurels.
A 6-0 forward, Jessica Howard of Clarendon High School was a two-time All-District honoree, averaging 14 points and 11.4 rebounds during her senior season. A TABC Al-Region and TGCA All-State selection, she was named to the Greenbelt Classic’s All-Tournament team and was also a Golden Spread All-Star.
Erica Knight, a 6-1 post who was a first team All-District selection at Frenship High School, spent the past two seasons as a member of the South Plains College Lady Texans. She averaged three points and two rebounds in 33 appearances last year. The Lady Texans finished the season 31-2 and were ranked number one in the nation for much of the year.
A 6-0 post from Houston, Rebekah Marsh shot 52 percent from the field and averaged nine points and six rebounds a game in the Homeschool Christian Youth Association.
“We will adapt to the players we recruited, but we eventually want to transition up and down the floor. Early on, we’ll play more of a controlled tempo and work for the good shot,” Bryant said, who was a member of Plainview’s 1995 4A state championship team.
“We won’t be short in effort or good attitude. This is a teachable team with a coachable spirit. They’ll be getting to know a new coach and a new system so the retention level will need to be high as they do a lot of adapting,” he said.
“In the Sooner Athletic Conference, it doesn’t matter if you play home or away, you never get an off night. We’ve got to take care of our games at home and try to win a few on the road.”
Bryant’s staff includes former Hardin-Simmons assistant Rusty Rainbolt; Joe Adams, who assisted him at Trinity Christian; and graduate assistant Brandi French.
“I’m looking forward to the great opportunity that lies before me,” Bryant said. “Coming back to the place I was raised is a dream come true. I grew up around the great tradition of Flying Queens basketball, and I want to help restore that tradition and put it back on the national level. It is truly an honor to be a part of such a storied program.”