By Dave Wagner
CNJ SPORTS WRITER
PORTALES — Don’t put too much stock in a 21-point exhibition loss at Grand Canyon on Saturday for the Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball team.
The Zias, under first-year coach Joshua Prock, also hope to prove wrong the Lone Star Conference preseason poll, which has them finishing eighth in a nine-team league as they’ve done each of the past two seasons.
“Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me,” Prock said of the poll. “A lot of times people vote (based) on the previous year, but I definitely think we can do better than that.”
ENMU (7-22, 6-14 LSC last year) opens the regular season with two games this weekend at Alamosa, Colo., facing host Adams State on Friday and Colorado State-Pueblo on Saturday.
Prock, who came to ENMU after five seasons as the women’s coach at Division III Howard Payne University, said Grand Canyon — a program transitioning from Division II to the Division I Western Athletic Conference — gave the Zias a big-time test with a front line averaging well over six feet.
“I know you can’t do it, but take away the first 10 minutes and we actually did a pretty good job,” Prock said. “Grand Canyon would have a chance to win (the LSC); they’d be bigger than anyone.”
The Zias, who had no one average as much as eight points last season, return eight players off that squad and definitely have an eastern New Mexico flavor with sophomore twins Jaylyn and Jordyn Cooper of Texico, junior transfer Tori Tucker of Floyd and sophomore transfer Cassidy Doherty and freshman Cara Barnard of Melrose.
“It’ll be good playing with some area kids,” said Jordyn Cooper, a guard. “Hopefully, we’ll get a local fan base going.”
The Coopers each averaged just under six points last season, while sophomore guard Ashlee Pierson of Clovis averaged 7.2 ppg and sophomore post Nelsha Peterson of Palestine, Texas, 7.1 ppg and four rebounds.
Peterson, the younger sister of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, scored 12 points to lead the Zias in Saturday’s exhibition against GCU.
Other returnees include junior point guard Lakeeyscia Griffin, senior guard Alexa Candelaria, junior guard Amber Williford and junior post Jasmine Johnson. All of the returnees averaged between 14 and 28 minutes in 2012-13.
Jordyn Cooper, who like her sister appears to have grown an inch or two since last year, said the experience gained a year ago can only help.
“Now we know what to expect at the college level,” she said. “I feel like we’re well-prepared for the season and in good shape.”
Prock has also added some post presence in 6-1 junior Breanna Conway, who played the last two years for him at Howard Payne, and 6-foot junior Rodneisha Milum.
“Having Bre here helps,” Prock said. “She knows me and my system, and how I coach.”
Clearly, the Zias struggled at times last season, but they did pull home upsets of Midwestern State and Abilene Christian, who finished 1-2 in the league.
“I think we need to get consistent effort across the board,” Prock said. “These girls have worked really hard in practice.”
Jordyn Cooper said the goal is consistent improvement.
“We have a good group returning and a lot of good kids coming in,” she said. “We just want to be the best team we can be and reach our full potential.”
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr.
3 Ashlee Pierson G 5-7 So.
4 Jordyn Cooper G 5-10 So.
5 Lakeeyscia Griffin PG 5-2 Jr.
11 Alexa Candelaria G 5-8 Sr.
13 Tori Tucker F 5-10 Jr.
14 Cassidy Doherty PG 5-4 So.
20 Cara Barnard G 5-7 Fr.
22 Amber Willliford G 5-9 Jr.
23 Rodneisha Milum P 6-0 Jr.
24 Jaylyn Cooper G 5-10 So.
31 Nelsha Peterson F 6-0 So.
33 Jasmine Johnson P 5-9 Jr.
34 Breanna Conway P 6-1 Jr.
Head coach: Joshua Prock (1st year). Assistant coaches: Jeff Caha, Brittney Lewis, Tara Johnson.
8-9 — Adams State tournament at Alamosa, Colo. (8 vs. Adams State, 7 p.m..; 9 vs. Colorado State-Pueblo, 4 p.m.; 12 — at Lubbock Christian, 6:30 p.m.; 18 — at Texas A&M International, 6 p.m.; 21 — at New Mexico State, 1 p.m.; 25 — Western New Mexico, 6 p.m.; 30 —Oklahoma Panhandle State, 2 p.m.
3 — University of the Southwest, 6:30 p.m.; 13 — at Wayland Baptist, 6 p.m.
6 — Lubbock Christian, 6:30 p.m.; 8 — Cameron, 5:30 p.m.-x; 11 — at Midwestern State, 3 p.m.-x; 15 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 9 a.m.-x; 18 — Angelo State, 2 p.m.-x; 22 — Texas A&M-Commerce, 5:30 p.m.-x; 23 — Texas Woman’s, 6 p.m.-x; 25 — at Tarleton State, 4 p.m.-x.
1 — at West Texas A&M, 1 p.m.-x; 5 — Texas A&M-Kingsville, 5:30 p.m.-x; 8 — at Angelo State, 1 p.m.-x; 12 — at Cameron, 5 p.m.-x; 15 — Midwestern State, 4 p.m.-x; 19 — at Texas A&M-Commerce, 4:30 p.m.-x; 20 — at Texas Woman’s, 6 p.m.-x; 22 — Tarleton State, 5 p.m.-x.
1 — West Texas A&M, 5:30 p.m.-x.
All times Mountain. x—Denotes Lone Star Conference games.