Lion Women Aim To Keep Improving
After a much-improved season, the Texas A&M University-Commerce women’s basketball team looks to continue to improve against a challenging conference.
After going 7-20 two seasons ago, the Lions were able to make a substantial turnaround last season, finishing at 14-14, including an upset win against Cameron University in the first round of the Lone Star Conference Tournament. Now, Head Coach Jason Burton is eager to keep improving in his second year at the helm.
“We had a different mindset going into the season,” Burton said. “The girls had a newfound mental toughness after the accident last summer.”
The accident Burton is referring to is one that rocked the Lion family when it occurred. Four members of the women’s basketball team were involved in a car accident on June 3, 2014, two months to the day after Burton’s hiring. Aubree Butts, Devin Oliver, La'Tisha Hearne, and Zenobia Winbush were all involved. Butts and Oliver passed away from their injuries.
A&M-Commerce rebounded from the tragedy, setting a positive tone for their season with an overtime victory at McMurry in the season opener.
“The girls lost two of their sisters,” Burton said. “But they felt that if they can get through the accident, they can get through anything.”
This year, Burton is joined by an all-new coaching staff. Markeith Brown, Lacey Escamilla, and Abigail Leaupepe-Tele all enter their first year as assistant coaches. Leaupepe-Tele is a recent A&M-Commerce graduate, who appeared in all 28 games last season, averaging 7.6 points per game.
Stat leaders for the Lions this year include Gabby Scott and Amari Jones, who are tied with the team lead with 10.1 points per game. The pair are closely followed by Princess Davis, averaging an even 10.0 points per game. Jones also sits in second in the LSC in rebounds and blocks, averaging 9.7 boards and 1.7 blocks per contest.
The team will have its fair share of high-profile games. After having a preseason exhibition game against Division I powerhouse Baylor, the nonconference schedule also includes games against Division I opponents Texas State and Stephen F. Austin.
In the LSC preseason poll, A&M-Commerce was picked to finish sixth out of nine teams. Currently, the Lions have the eighth-best record in the conference, with only Midwestern State below them with a 1-7 mark. Perennial powerhouse West Texas A&M is off to another hot start, currently sporting a 7-0 record and the no. 2 ranking in the country. The Lady Buffs are coming off of a year in which the team finished 30-3 and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight before falling to Emporia State.
Other strong contenders in the conference race are Angelo State, who is off to a 5-1 start. Texas A&M-Kingsville is the surprise of the season so far, posting a 5-4 record after failing to win a game in 26 tries last season. The Javelinas will also be the Lions’ first conference opponent when they tip off on Jan. 6 at the Field House.