By Dave Wagner
Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball co-coaches Dustin Klafka and Dan Buzard are reshaping the Zias for the 2005-06 season.
Klafka, who filled in as acting head coach last season with Buzard sidelined by a cancerous brain tumor, said most of the team’s recruits are in place for next year with eight players signed to letters of intent.
“We’re pretty close,” he said. “We’re probably looking for one more post player if we can find one — you can never have too many posts.”
Buzard was the Zias’ head coach from 2002-04 before he was hospitalized in July. He’s still on the road to recovery, particularly trying to regain his eyesight, but he’s back to where he can help out with office duties.
Klafka said five players return from last year’s 13-14 team (7-7 Lone Star Conference South). Included are two full-time starters in 5-foot-7 junior guard Heather Brown and 6-2 senior forward Tiana Bryant, and two part-time starters in 6-0 senior post Riikka Lehtonen and 5-4 sophomore guard Erika Cook.
Brown (11.6) and Bryant (10.5) led the Zias in scoring last season, while Cook and Lehtonen averaged around 4.5 points.
The fifth returnee is 5-10 sophomore guard Brittney Gillespie.
“Heather and Tiana bring us pretty good experience,” Klafka said. “Erika started a lot for us after Christmas (nine games), and I feel like Riikka got better as the year went on.”
Six of the signees are junior college transfers and have two years of eligibility remaining — 6-1 post Jennifer Foster and 5-8 wing Missy Kirkland of Hill (Texas) JC, 5-10 wing Megan Ratliff of Cochise (Ariz.) College, 6-0 junior forward Ashley Sutton of Tyler (Texas) JC, 5-11 junior forward Rochelle Vance of Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas, and 5-7 shooting guard Shayna Woods of Kilgore (Texas) College.
Incoming freshmen are Lindsey Wood, a 5-7 point guard from Muleshoe, and Laura Vote, a 5-5 shooting guard from Kingwood, Texas.
“More than anything, we tried to address the idea of getting kids that were hard-nosed competitors,” Klafka said. “I also think we’ll be faster in some positions with these kids, and we have some kids who can shoot the ball from the guard position.”
Wood helped Muleshoe reach the Texas Class 3A regionals (round of eight) each of the last two years, where the Lady Mules were eliminated by eventual state champion Canyon.
“This year we weren’t expected to do very well, but we surprised everyone,” Wood said.
She said she’s not sure what to expect next season, but she’s looking forward to the opportunity.
“I like to pass the ball more than shoot,” she said. “I didn’t shoot much (last season) until district started.
“I worked out with them (on a visit to ENMU this spring), and I held my own when I went down there. I’m ready to get it started.”
Klafka said Wood gives the Zias some options in the backcourt.
“She’s exactly what we need in a point guard,” he said. “I think as the year goes and Lindsey gets more experience, it’ll allow us to move Heather (Brown) to an off-guard.”
Klafka called Woods, who is from Fort Worth, “a Division I-caliber athlete” and noted that Vance, who averaged 14 points and seven rebounds last season at Frank Phillips, came out of a solid prep program in Duncanville, Texas.
“Rochelle will bring a lot of intangibles,” he said. “I think she’ll be a leader for us. Being from a quality high school program, she knows how to win.”