By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Preseason conditioning is behind them, and the Eastern New Mexico University basketball teams are ready for the start of practice on Sunday at Greyhound Arena.
First-year women’s coach Linden Weese said the public is welcome to his squad’s opening workout, scheduled for 1:30-3:30 p.m. Seventh-year men’s coach Shawn Scanlan will put his team through its first paces from 4-6:30 p.m.
A longtime assistant under former women’s coach Marsha Sharp at Texas Tech, Weese believes the Zias have the talent to make a strong run at the Lone Star Conference postseason tournament after injuries contributed mightily to an 11-17 record (3-11 Lone Star Conference South) in 2005-06.
“Our goal is to get into the conference tournament (top four in each of the LSC’s two divisions) and see what happens from there,” Weese said.
Four of the Zias’ five players who went down with season-ending injuries have been cleared and are ready to go, Weese said — senior forward Elizabeth Richards, junior forward Rochelle Vance, senior post Riikka Lehtonen and junior guard Erika Cook. The fifth, junior post Brittany Gillespie (knee), is not expected back in action until somewhere around the Nov. 18 opener at Oklahoma Panhandle State.
Richards and senior guards Heather Brown and Missy Kirkland have been named team captains.
“They’ve been great leaders so far,” Weese said. “It’s been huge for our freshmen. They really would like to go out with a strong finish.
“Our young kids are going to have to help us before the season’s over, but we’ve got a real good freshman class.”
Scanlan said his squad is ready to go after two weeks of what he called “boot camp” preseason training.
The Greyhounds (12-16, 6-6 last season), who used a strong finish last season to squeeze into the LSC tournament for the fourth time in five years, will build around seven returning regulars, including their top two scorers in senior guard Tristan Largent (13.0 ppg) and senior post Mikal Monette (12.0). Monette has recovered from a knee injury which sidelined him for the final three games a year ago.
Scanlan thinks the Hounds, who won the South in 2003 and 2004 before enduring losing campaigns the last two seasons, can regain their winning form.
“I’m excited about this group,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to working with these guys. We’ve come a long ways in the six or seven weeks we’ve been together.”
The Hounds open in a four-team tournament Nov. 18-19 at Greyhound Arena. Kansas rivals Washburn and Fort Hays State clash in Friday’s opener before the Hounds take on Western State (Colo.), with third-place and championship games set for the following night.
Fourteen of ENMU’s 27 games are at home this year — three more than in any of Scanlan’s previous seasons.
“We’re certainly more athletic than we were a year ago,” Scanlan said. “I think we’re bigger and deeper at the guard positions.
“I think the potential is here, and the expectations will be greater.”