Patriots ready to ascend even higher

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Michelle Obach leads a veteran squad that knows it has the experience and talent to win it all.
Texas-Tyler athletics file photo

Michelle Obach understands the expectations are high for Texas-Tyler's women's basketball team. She also knows that with the entire team back from last season, the Patriots are among the favorites to contend for a national title.

But meeting those expectations and being in a position to hoist a trophy at the end of the year are not the focus of the Patriots at the moment.

"Our mentality is that we have the end goal in mind but our focus is on one day at a time, one practice at a time and one game at a time," Obach said. "We're not looking ahead."

Obach is among the top players back for the Patriots. An All-American a year ago, the senior guard helped guide Tyler to a 30-2 record and trip to the Elite Eight last year, averaging 18 points per outing while racking up 71 steals and dishing out 114 assists along the way.

Obach is one of eight seniors on the roster and the Patriots are in their second season under head coach Kendra Hassell.

"It's great having so many players back because we all know what to expect and have played together before," Obach said. "Having so much experience helps in bringing along the new girls. The great thing about this team is that everyone is good. Anyone can step up on any given night."

Hassell was hired last May at Tyler and took the Patriots to a level they have never been to before, guiding them to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. The magical run ended in an 80-74 loss to Wartburg.

"It's a first for me as a coach to have everyone back from the previous season," Hassell said. "It's pretty exciting. Last year as a new coach I had to come in and do a lot of teaching because everything was new. This year I feel like we are a step ahead."

In addition to having Obach, the MVP of the ASC tournament last year, the Patriots also return guard Makenzi May and forward D'Onna Matthews, the second- and third-leading scorers last season.

The other seniors are guards Re'Elle Miller and Khadijah Evans and forwards Maddie Wilson, Shuntay Raglin, and Adrienne Drake.

"Everyone knows their roles and practices are very competitive," Hassell said. "Players are competing for spots every day and even if we bring in someone off the bench, there is no drop-off. Our depth is tremendous this year."

The experience is already paying off for the Patriots, who have won their first three games, including a 62-59 victory over Chapman this past weekend in California. Tyler trailed 49-46 at the end of three quarters before rallying for a win. Miller hit a go-ahead free throw with 24 seconds to play and Obach sealed the deal on the win with a layup off a steal.

"The experience makes a difference in those close games," Hassell said. "I thought our players stayed poised and they believe in themselves when the game is close. This team is extremely hungry and it works hard."

Obach noted the confidence of the team is high because of the experience it has.

"The tone was set last year because we saw how far we are capable of going when we play up to our potential," Obach said. "We're more confident in everything we do and we're ready to do whatever we have to in order to be successful."

While Hassell is pleased with her team's strong start, she points out that there is still work to do.

"There is a lot we can improve on, but it's still early in the year," Hassell said. "They are working hard to get better every day in every aspect of the game, be it shooting, rebounding, being tougher on defense, or taking care of the ball. We continue to make strides."

Ultimately, the Patriots hope those strides take them all the way to the top of the NCAA Division III mountaintop.

"We were right there last year, a win away from going to the Final Four," Obach said. "We're motivated by it and just have to keep taking it one game at a time. If we do that, we'll get a shot at the title again."

Johnson paves way for Berry

Caleb Johnson shot 60 percent from the floor and scored 18 points to help Berry roll past Midway 83-66 Saturday in their final game of the Jim Connor Classic.

Johnson, who went 6-of-10 from the field, also grabbed five rebounds to help Berry improve to 2-1 on the season. Johnson is off to an impressive start this year, averaging 22.3 points per outing. He has pulled down 19 rebounds as well.

Johnson is looking to build on the success of his sophomore game in which he earned second-team All-SAA honors. He averaged 15.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game a year ago.

Weatherly reaches milestone

Anais Weatherly joined the 1,000-point club at Guilford Saturday as she helped the Quakers to a 75-71 win over MacMurray College.

Weatherly finished with 14 points as she hit 1,000 points for her career. She is the 19th player in program history to reach the milestone.

Weatherly also grabbed six rebounds and five assists in the victory. She tallied four steals as well as the Quakers improved to 2-0 on the season. She is averaging 17.5 points per game this season. A year ago, Weatherly was a first-team All-ODAC selection and one of the top scoring threats in the conference. This season is her third as a full-time starter.

Bulldogs get revenge

Texas Lutheran lost to Hardin-Simmons in the opening round of NCAA tournament a year ago. The Bulldogs avenged the loss Saturday, rolling to a 90-66 victory.

Texas Lutheran, the two-time defending SCAC champs, shot 60.4 percent from the field and held Hardin-Simmons to 29.5 percent from the field as it improved to 3-0 under first-year head coach Mike Wacker.

Michael Sullivan played a pivotal role in the win as he started in place of Sterling Holmes. He made all six of his shots from the field and scored 15 points. Sullivan is averaging 9.0 points per game for the Bulldogs this season.

Wacker is the son of Jim Wacker, who coached the Texas Lutheran football team to consecutive NAIA national titles. He spent the past 26 years coaching basketball at Converse Judson High School, going 703-196

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 15 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for and wrote the book Perfect Run as No. 1 about the 2009 Division II men's basketball champions University of Findlay. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.