Turning the corner

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February 9, 2007

6:49 PM

With a win Sunday against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and one more victory, the women’s basketball team will ensure back-to-back winning seasons. At most schools, that’s a modest achievement. But for the Tribe, which has endured its fair share of losing seasons in the past, this will be the first time in nearly 20 years that it’s happened.

p. “This is the first step in changing the history of this program,” Head Coach Debbie Taylor said.

p. Hired eight years ago to help turn around the losing tradition of the Tribe program, Taylor is excited to see signs of positive consistency. Just two years ago, the Tribe was mired in one of its worst seasons in school history.

p. With only seven players available to suit up for some games and four starters out for the year, the team hobbled to a 4-24 final record during the 2004-2005 season. Out of players on this year’s roster, no one remembers how hard it was to finish that season better than senior guard Katy Neumer.

p. Neumer, who was a bench player at the time, recalled some practices during the season when it wasn’t even possible to scrimmage against a whole five-person team. “It was not easy to get up every morning and stay positive,” she said. “We never wanted to feel that way again. We felt helpless.”

p. After a year spent as the bottom rung of the CAA standings ladder, pieces of the puzzle started to fall in place. Star players returned prior to the 2005-2006 season. Junior forward Kyra Kaylor suited up after taking a medical redshirt and did nothing less than win the CAA Player of the Year Award and VaSID State Player of the Year Award. But most importantly, everyone brought a winning attitude to the table, and the Tribe finished the season 15-13.

p. “The kids that struggled through that season two years ago came out the next season tougher and more determined,” Taylor said.

p. Fast forward to this year, to the crucial midpoint of the conference schedule, and Taylor was forced to go to her bench as the result of an injury to sophomore guard Dani Kell and the illness of sophomore guard Courtney Portell. Needing someone to make up for their production in the starting lineup, she called on none other than Neumer. Neumer has risen to the challenge, helping the Tribe to a 14-9 record.

p. Against nationally ranked James Madison University last weekend, Neumer scored a career-high 17 points in 39 minutes of action. In a back and forth game against Georgia State University in January, in which the Tribe eventually won 77-76, she chipped in five points in 28 minutes of play.

p. “Katy has truly been one of the most valuable pieces of the transition of this program over the past few years because she understands her role,” Taylor said.

p. Neumer, who played only 78 minutes all of last season, accepted her role as a reserve for her first three years at the College. After being thrust into the limelight, she is now a big reason the Tribe is not only poised for its first back-to-back winning seasons since 1977-78, but also its second 20-win season in Division I school history.

p. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to step up and help the team,” she said.

p. Taylor is glad to have her play such a big role. “Anytime you’re a kid coming off the bench, you worry about how you perform,” she said. “Now you see a much more confident Katy Neumer than you’ve ever seen before. That’s what we need right now.”
Sunday against UNCW, Taylor expects Portell to return to action, but said Neumer’s starting role will not change. “She’s proven she deserves it,” she said.

p. Neumer, who has embraced her new role, believes the Tribe’s climb up the CAA standings over the past two years is no fluke. “We are a very different team than two years ago, and than last year,” she said. “We’ve proved that we’re here to stay.”

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