Coach Marty Rowe has taken a Brescia University club and his 2010 Lee club to the semifinal rounds, and he is excited about the opportunity to lead his Lady Flames into the championship game on Tuesday against the winner of Freed-Hardeman University and Westmont (Calif.) match.
But there’s a big first huddle to get across in the Cumberland University (Tenn.) contest. The Bulldogs are 33-2 under coach Jeremy Lewis. They are the champs of the very tough Mid-South Conference and are making their second appearance in the Fab Four (2005).
The Lady Flames and Bulldogs were once members of the TranSouth Conference and Lee will be looking for another first when they meet the Lebanon squad for a ninth time. Lee stands at 0-8 in the all-time series.
Defense has been huge for Lee in the first three wins in national tourney play. Carrying a 16-game winning streak into the Cumberland game, the Lady Flames have held three opponents to 60 points or less.
Rowe was quick to point to one key of his team’s success on the defensive end during a press conference for the Fab Four clubs on Sunday afternoon. "Everybody in this room trusts Rachel (Lockhart). When you have a defender like her that you can put on the other team's best wing and she doesn't get anything, it's big. What she's able to do on the court means a lot to us right now."
Seniors Julia Zimmerman and Brooke Hamby were members of the 2010 team that reached the Fab Four in Jackson. Zimmerman says the improved post play has helped the Lady Flames advance. “I think the biggest difference this year is our inside presence,” she noted. “Our post players have worked tremendously hard in the offseason and preseason. Throughout the season they've just gotten better and now we have an inside post presence like we did in my freshman year with Katie Nelson (Lady Flame, 2010) to help Hollie (German) out in the scoring. Our inside game has stepped up and I'm so proud of them.”
German has been her usual self, despite being a target of every opponent. She has tallied 18, 21, and 22 in the tournament. Sophomore Jenna Adams has totaled 18, 12 and 16. She will need to stay out of foul trouble, if the Lady Flames hope to get by Cumberland.
Rowe was asked if he was surprised to see his Lady Flames in the semifinal round. "I'm not surprised we are in this position, but ‘amazed’ may be a better word. We really feel like this is the most unselfish team we've ever had on and off the court. We've been amazed by this group but not surprised one bit, because of the type of people they are."
The coach, who has his ninth straight Lee team in the national tournament, was asked about three of the final four teams being from the Volunteer State. "Tennessee basketball is really good. You can look at the rosters of the three Tennessee teams and find a bunch of girls from our state listed. When these girls grow up they want to play for Pat Summit (UT-Knoxville) … well, our girls got stuck with me," he jokingly said.
He also took time to single out the extra work German has put in during her three years at Lee and also his team leaders. "I think you see her (Hollie) work ethic rub off on the others. This is the best group of leaders I've ever had. I don't say these things lightly, but it is a group that has been able to feed off of each other. They feed off of work ethic and leadership. That's something that I'm really proud of.”
Rowe and the teams he has put together over the years are certainly no joking matter. He has put together one of the top coaching marks in the NAIA. He take great pride in producing top teams on and off the court.
Hamby might have best described the feelings of this group at the press conference. “After we lost to Southern Poly (Jan. 26), we were just angry and we took revenge and don't want to stop until we get the national championship."
Monday’s game will be aired at 5:50 p.m. on 104.1 FM and Stretch Internet. To select the pay-for-view stream option, go to NAIA.org and follow the directions. Tuesday’s final will be televised by CBS Sports channel.