Thursday, September 8, 2011

Longwood braces for rigorous 2011-12 schedule

We like Bill Reinson. Good man, good coach, diehard Boston Red Sox fan....

So it was with considerable respect that, after looking at Longwood's 2011-12 women's basketball schedule, we dialed up Lancers headquarters and asked the head man:

"Are you trying to kill those young women with that lineup?"

At Notre Dame. At Miami. At Georgetown. All three of those teams will likely open the season ranked in the Top 10, with the Fighting Irish possibly among the first five. That trip to N.C. State is no breather, either (hey, that rhymes!), nor is the visit to Big East member Cincinnati.Gardner-Webb made the NCAA Tournament last year. Appalachian State qualified for the WNIT. So did Richmond. So did Central Michigan.

Is this any way to treat a team coming off a 7-win season?

Reinson acknowledged that financial considerations were in play, as teams like Longwood can raise a fair bit of cash with guarantee games. Also, it's pretty tricky for an independent to find opponents in January and February. Still, Reinson insists this is pretty much the type of schedule he wanted.

"Those first three teams (Notre Dame, Miami, Georgetown), obviously they're at the top level," said Reinson, who took over the Lancers on an interim basis last December and got the job full-time in the spring. "But that next level, that's where we're trying to get, and so that's who we need to play. We need to recruit at that level, play at that level and, ultimately, win at that level."

It would help if the Lancers can collect a few wins on the road, at any level. Over the last two seasons, Longwood has actually been a better-than-average Division I team in its own building (13-12 record). But the Lancers were just 3-33 outside of Farmville over that span (3-27 road, 0-6 neutral).

Only nine of Longwood's 30 games will be at home in 2011-12.

To reverse this trend, the Lancers will employ a tactic widely used in ice hockey - play wide-open at home, then adopt a more conservative, mistake-free posture on the road.

"If you look at our assist-to-turnover ratio at home, it was pretty close to even," Reinson said. "On the road, we had something like 240 more turnovers than assists. So we've talked about it, and we're going to try and scale it back a bit on the road. Basically, just play smarter."

Will it work? Well, it did wonders for the Boston Bruins. Besides, it has to be better than whatever the Lancers were doing on the road the past two years.

Of course, the best solution would be improved performance, and the early indications are promising. Unlike last year, when the players had to learn Reinson's motion offense on the fly, the Lancers will have a full preseason to get the system down.

In addition, Reinson said every returner has showed up in better physical and mental form. Now, we weren't thrilled with that "every returner" stuff and pressed Reinson to give us a few names. Impressed by our boldness - or perhaps just eager to get us off the line - Reinson acquiesced and offered up:

Chelsea Coward: "She much more prepared," Reinson said. "When we're doing conditioning, she's absolutely killing people. She's lapping people."

Brittany Jones: "Really taking a leadership role."

Crystal Smith: "She's gotten a lot stronger, and she's smiling more now. We're a better team when Crystal Smith is on the floor, and with the work she's put in, I see her on the floor a lot."

A four-player cast of newcomers should also help. All figure to contribute in time, but junior-college transfer guard Mieke Elkington ("very high motor, very high basketball IQ") might be a factor right away.

The group's hard work has continued in strength and conditioning workouts with the Longwood softball team and coach Kathy Riley, a woman Reinson calls "the best coach on campus." Sounds good, although we'll like this even better if the Lancers can convince Georgetown, Miami and Notre Dame to play nine innings instead of 40 minutes.

Still, no matter what happens in those games, Reinson's nothing-but-the-best scheduling has already been a big hit on the recruiting trail.

"I've already had 5 or 6 kids say, 'Coach, I love that schedule, all the places you go!' " Reinson said.

And why not? It's not like it's going to kill 'em, right?

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