Monday, January 21, 2013

Lookee, who's in first place in the Big South! A chat with Longwood's Chelsea Coward

One team sits atop the Big South -- and no, it's not Liberty for a change, and neither is it surprising Presbyterian. Instead, atop the league sits upstart Longwood, sporting a gaudy 6-1 mark in conference - every other Big South team has at least two losses - and a 9-9 record overall. We say upstart not because the Lancers are full of underclassmen -- seniors Chelsea Coward (16 ppg, 9 rpg) and Crystal Smith (16.9 ppg) lead this experienced bunch -- but this is the first year Longwood is in a conference.

What does that mean? Consider that the Lancers are used to playing games this time a year just for the sake of games. No conference means no conference tournament, no hint at making the NCAA field, no WNIT prospects. Just games -- most of them on an opponent's home floor -- and a finite end to your season.

That mindset is over. We don't know if the Lancers will find themselves in the postseason, but just entertaining the prospect is something fun to think about. We chatted with Coward about that and more.......

What's it like being in first place?

It's exciting. It's like you're playing  for something -- one goal. Everybody wants to win the Big South. 

Was it hard to stay motivated the last three years without a conference tournament to look forward to?

At times it was. We've been through a lot here -- a change in coaching staff, playing some really tough teams (*note: former coach Kristin Caruso was suspended twice before being fired. Bill Reinson is in his second season as head coach of Longwood.)  -- but I have a great team. My team is awesome We've been through a lot, but we pulled through it all. We've been through a lot of adversity and struggled, but we're doing so well right  now. 

What was your biggest win before this year?

Last year we were struggling, and we went to New Jersey Institute of Technology; that was our last game. It was really good to go out with a win, and our seniors left with a win. That was a really good feeling.

And now?

We had a really good game with Campbell the other day. That was a close game, the closest game we've had. We won with a buzzer beater by Crystal Smith; we haven't had that. Those games are always fun. (**Note: Smith scored 32 in the 77-75 win.)

So the coaches and a media panel picked Longwood to finish 11th (last) in the preseason poll.

We know. People didn't know what to expect of us. We're under the radar. It makes us want to work hard.

Do you ever talk about going to the NCAA Tournament?

Right now we're focused on the games we're playing. We're taking one step at a time.

What is it like for you personally to be playing in the Big South?

It's really exciting. I never knew what conference play was like. Everybody knows everybody's players. It's a lot different. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. It's different than what I'm used to. We used to play all these different schools; now we see teams twice.

Why did you choose Longwood?

I was looking at a few other schools -- Delaware State, American -- but Longwood really pursued me. They didn't give me any runaround. Some colleges make you wait. They really wanted me, and it's a great school.

Your major sounds impressive: Information systems with a minor in cybersecurity, forensics and policy.

We focus on a lot of aspects of computer technology as a business -- data base programming, web programming, systems management, system integration, a lot of things like that. .... I'm thinking about getting more into system design and web programming.

But before you start that career ....

I'm thinking about playing overseas for a while and seeing how that goes. I'd like to go back to school at some point. I'd go anywhere, but I'd love Europe -- Italy, France, somewhere like that. I'm open right now to any opportunity I could get to play basketball.

Talk about the journey, the last four years, for you at Longwood.

There were points in time it was really tough. Stuff was going on my freshman year and my sophomore year that I really didn't understand. I had never been through that type of adversity on a basketball team before. But I have great teammates, great classmates -- Crystal Smith, Erin Neal, Mieke Elkington -- they've been here with me going through the same thing. I always had someone to talk to. We ran together, played together, cried together; we've been through a lot. We had each other's back. 

And now?

It's a good feeling. It's fun to win. It makes us want to work a lot harder. We know we can do this. We know we have it in us if we keep working hard and putting in the extra work. Winning makes it a lot easier. Winning makes you feel as though you're working toward something. We've always worked hard, but it means a lot to have success with our hard work.

Coward and the Lancers will return to action on Thursday at High Point (11-7, 5-2 Big South).

1 comment:

  1. Congrats to Longwood and to JMU WBB alum Sarah Williams now at Longwood and doing her part to make the Lancers successful.