Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Lady Rattlers Coiled To Make A Run In MEAC Ranks

TALLAHASSEE, Florida  – The 2015-2016 edition of the Lady Rattler basketball team overcame a slow start to begin to gel at a critical point in the season, conference play. Coming fresh off a road sweep, the team is playing with fire, most recently coming up with a 66-59 win over the Lady Pirates of Hampton, the team that has dominated the MEAC over the last decade.

Head coach LeDawn Gibson attributes the success to a unique chemistry among the team. “When you put players together to form a team, on paper they can look great, but if they do not have that chemistry, it could be disastrous. This team likes to play for each other. This team fights for each other. With injuries, we only dressed eight players for the last few games, but those eight are dedicated,” Gibson said.

Courting a mix of returnees and newcomers, the Lady Rattlers have climbed above the .500 mark at 9-8, 3-1 in the MEAC. The team is led by seniors Olivia Antilla and Khadejra Young, who normally dictate the flow of the games. Kenya Dixon, Dawn King and Alicia McCray have had solid starts to the 2016 campaign. Leading the team up the floor is junior college transfer Victoria Nguyen. Nguyen’s ability to be floor general has freed up Young to work in her more natural No.3 position, where last season she had to play point guard.

Another addition to this year’s squad was the return of associate head coach Latasha Shipman-Ganus. Shipman-Ganus’ cohesion with Gibson resulted in 20 win seasons and signature wins for the program before she took a position at UNC-Greensboro.

“One major turning point for us was a team-building excursion we did while in California for the USC Women of Troy Classic. Our team stepped outside of the normal and went as a group to Universal Studios. This was the day following a disappointing loss to USC. The ladies really began to play team ball that next day, and defeated UC Davis in a game where we were physically overmatched, “ Gibson said.

To close out 2015, FAMU went up to Clemson and defeated the Tigers 77-68. It was a scrappy effort by the Lady Rattlers’ eight players. The team as well as individuals have combined for solid statistical performances.

The Lady Rattlers are No.1 in the MEAC in scoring offense at 64.4 percent. They also rank in field goal percentage (3rd) and offensive rebounds (2nd). Young leads the conference with 48 steals, while Dixon and Antilla are first and second in three-point field goal percentage. Dixon holds the top spot in the MEAC (.417), while Antilla is second at (.406).

“If I were to point to one in-game factor that we have improved on, it’s the play of our low post players. Shalaunda Burney-Robinson began the year looking as she had come into the promise of her abilities, but an early injury has sidelined her since that time. Alicia McCray stepped into the role and has been playing with the aggressiveness we need to control the board. Her added scoring doesn’t hurt either,” Gibson said.

Antilla, last year’s leading scorer, has played patient basketball. No longer having to try to carry the team on her back, she is letting the game come to her. Most of the season, she has been in the Top 10 of the NCAA Division I for three-point shooting percentage. She is even on pace to re-write FAMU’s single season three-point mark.

As a team the goal is simple, compete hard for the best possible positioning in the MEAC tournament and go to Norfolk with a chance to take home the MEAC crown. For Gibson, that’s the overall goal, but they have had their success on achieving short term goals. “Right now, we are concentrating on Morgan State. That’s our next opponent. We must continue to take one game at a time and treat each one like it’s the most important game we play…because it is.”

None may have been bigger than defeating Hampton on their home floor. The juggernauts of the MEAC had won 28 consecutive home games, dating back to 2012, prior to the loss to the Lady Rattlers.

What’s next: The Lady Rattlers will face the Bears of Morgan State on Sat., Jan.16 at The Al Lawson Center at 4 p.m.


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