Isabelle Schmidt

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The Winthrop University women’s basketball team starts the 2018-2019 season Nov. 8 and head coach Lynette Woodard anticipates a great year, despite the fact the team has only won a total of nine games that last three seasons.

“We are very ready,” said Woodard. “Our new players came in and they participated in summer school and in summer workouts in preparation for the fall. We are very excited to see how we are going to work together and gel and present ourselves when it’s time for the first game.”

Woodard joined the program as an assistant coach in August 2016 and quickly ascended to the head coaching position in late March 2017, after coach Kevin Cook was dismissed for alleged mistreatment of student-athletes.

Perhaps, the low-point for the Lady Eagles came in December 2016 during an embarrassing 32-140 loss to Baylor, just two years removed from a 24 win season and Big South conference title in 2014.

Along the way there have been injuries, the dismissal of the coaching staff and numerous player transfers, which have taken its toll on the program.

However, Woodard is optimistic that things will soon improve for what was once a fractured and demoralized team.

“This is a rebuild, but that is a situation that takes time and we will do it piece by piece, day by day,” she said. “It is getting us believing in ourselves first, and foremost working hard to get better every day. We say if we can get one percent better every day, then by the end of the week we might be 7 percent better.”

Woodard brings to Winthrop a legendary resume as a player, where she was a two-time U.S. Olympian, a four-time All-American at Kansas and the all-time Division I women’s scoring leader. She is also a member of the women’s basketball Hall of Fame and was the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Woodard, said she draws from her experience as a player when coaching and motivating her players to work hard.

“She always tries to keep us in high spirits and keep us disciplined,” said Jah’Che Whitfield, a freshman guard. “Coach Woodard’s style of coaching is more of talking. She doesn’t really raise her voice at us, but she’s very vocal. She always lets us know what she wants and makes us execute it.”

“Every day she gives us encouragement through a quote read at the beginning of practice,” said freshman forward MaLeeah Langstaff. “We also have been running new drills that she has incorporated in lots of game type situations. She incorporates lots of visuals. We walk through a lot of the drills before we actually run them.”

“I just like a good brand of basketball,” said Woodard. “I like to move the ball quickly and transition down the floor. I want a team that plays great defense, I like a team that talks and works together and doesn’t feel like everything is just on one person’s shoulders.”

However, Woodard admits the team faces a challenge this season, because there are so many new players.

“We have never played together. Half the team are freshman, the other half are juniors and we have one senior, so we got to get together and really work and gel to figure out how we can put our best effort out there and get victory,” she said.

In May 2018, Woodard added Lewis Shine as an associate coach, which she said has brought a lot of energy to the team.

“Coach Shine brings a lot of enthusiasm and knowledge of the game. He loves to teach and loves to motivate and that is going to carry us a long way,” said Woodard.

“Adding Coach Shine has made a huge impact. He always brings energy each and every day,” said Whitfield. “He walks in the gym smiling. Doing drills he is always the loudest one hyping us up, he runs our sprints with us, he is very vocal and on top of all of that, he is calm. He brings excitement and entertainment to the team.”

With the added energy and positive attitude, those associated with the program believe the Lady Eagles can only improve from last year.

“Long term, I think the next couple of years this team will become dangerous and people will fear playing Winthrop. We have a really strong freshman class and in the next four years our team chemistry will only get stronger,” said Langstaff.

“We are just hoping the student population will get interested in women’s basketball and come out and support us. We are a small school and we depend on each other. I think that if the students would come out and support us, that would be our sixth man and we will, for sure, come away with victory,” said Woodard.