EUNICE — Ask members of the LSU-Eunice basketball team for recollections from last season and none of them remember much, including the season record. All they knew, is they wanted a change, LSU-E guard Victoria Fontenot said.
The new approach the Bengals were seeking began Aug. 13 when the school announced the hiring of Yolanda Moore, a former WNBA player and high-profile personality, who previously wrote a motivational book and worked as a TV basketball game analyst.
Moore promised a championship team at her inaugural press conference, and she’s delivered in her first season as LSU-E (26-3) won the Miss-Lou championship.
The Bengals begin play in the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 23 tournament at 8 p.m. Wednesday when they face Pearl River Community College in Clinton, Miss.
Fontenot, a sophomore from nearby Basile, said a new coach was necessary to keep the basketball program viable.
“When we heard it was going to be coach Moore, we were actually excited to have someone that was going to come in and take this team and turn the program around.
“I think we needed someone who was fresh and was going to bring in a whole new system,” Fontenot said.
Although coming to LSU-E was Moore’s first college coaching job, Fontenot said it was immediately obvious that the Bengals’ new coach had no difficulty in demonstrating the direction she wanted to take.
“She came in, and (Moore) told us that she expected us to give it our all. She’s been through it, playing (for the Houston Comets). And since she knows what it takes to win, she expected us to do the same,” Fontenot said.
Fontenot said it was obvious from the outset that Moore had some clear objectives.
“(Moore) was straight to business about everything,“ Fontenot said.
Moore’s expectations at first didn’t always resonate with a team that had been used to losing, Fontenot said.
“It took awhile for us to adjust to what (Moore wanted). It really did. There were a few times that we were tired, and she would tell us that we needed to dig a little deeper.
“If we wanted to get to a national tournament, she told us, then it was going to take more and for us to dig down, because she knows what it’s like. She wanted us to feel the same,” Fontenot said.
Moore, who was an honorable mention All-American at Ole Miss, said her goals for her team were somewhat simple.
“I told the girls if they wanted to win and be successful, then they were going to have to be willing to put in the work. I told them that I knew they were capable of being very good. I didn’t talk to them about last season,” Moore said.
Bengals forward Meghan Cross said Moore had a few questions for the team when the preseason workouts began.
“(Moore) said that whatever happens is going to be up to us to do better and not be those people that we were last year.
“Then she also asked us why were we here and what is it that we really wanted out of this season,” Cross said.
Cross, also a sophomore, scored 11 points and had eight rebounds in the Bengals’ 73-56 win over Delgado, which clinched the conference title.
Reagan Maricle is the team’s leading scorer (13.3 points per game), while Cross averages 13.1 and a team-leading 7.4 rebounds.
Moore said she knew there was ample talent on the Bengals, but she didn’t want to begin her career at the school by examining the past.
“I didn’t even look at the film of last season. I wanted a clean slate. I really didn’t know what to expect at first, but I knew that I wanted to build a relationship, and it was going to be about getting to know each other,” Moore said.
Since Moore was hired late in the summer, she didn’t even have time to recruit. “We had one girl who walked on and I felt that players that were here are good,” Moore said.
Moore said she’s not taking the credit for going from last year’s eight-win season to one that has brought large crowds to the small LSU-E gym.
“I really can’t take the credit, and I mean that. I think the credit belongs to the players. All of them said that they just wanted to win.
LSU-E forward Brooke Richard, a sophomore from Sulphur, said Moore’s message was what the Bengals wanted to hear.
“After last year, we all talked about coming back and doing a lot better, because I knew that we could. I’m really not that surprised by what has happened, because we really wanted to better ourselves,” said Richard, who had 20 points and four rebounds against Delgado.
In addition to the conditioning and motivation, Richard said, Moore has brought some adjustments in the way the Bengals play the game.
“We run the floor and we look for the open shots. If anything, I guess you could say we push the ball more,” Richard said.