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View from the 'ville
Thursday, March 15, 2007

By Al Myatt

Baldwin-Tener era adds new spice to spring

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Coach Sharon
(Photo: ECU SID)

She's given East Carolina fans something to focus on in mid-March other than baseball or spring football. Her basketball team hasn't lost a game since Feb. 1 when it was edged by UAB in overtime at Williams Arena in Minges Coliseum.

ECU women's coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said that setback was the turning point for a team which will take a 10-game winning streak and the mantle of Conference USA champions into the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at Michigan State.

ECU (19-13), the No. 13 seed in the Greensboro regional, will play fourth-seeded Rutgers (22-8) at 9:30 p.m. When the Lady Pirates started 4-8, the program's second foray onto the big dance floor — and first since 1982 — seemed highly improbable.

"Our first five games were on the road," Baldwin-Tener said. "We were against a lot of tough opponents in the non-conference. We struggled a little bit with confidence, actually. We're still a young team and our confidence was shot.

"After Christmas we tried to regroup. We would play a really good game and then play a bad game. We were inconsistent. After the UAB game that we lost in overtime, we had a long heart-to-heart and I think that really was probably the turning point.

"We started playing more on a consistent basis after that game."

ECU has good balance with three players — sophomore guard Jasmine Young (13.6), soph guard LaCoya Terry (13.2) and senior center Cherie Mills (14.9) — averaging in double figures.

"Last year, if Jasmine Young or Cherie Mills did not have a huge game for us or both of them did not play really well, we didn't have a chance to win," Baldwin-Tener said. "This year, LaCoya Terry has had some great games. But not only that, we've had a lot of games where we've had four or five people in double-figure scoring.

"When that's the case, we're a much better basketball team if they're just shutting down Cherie or just shutting down Jaz, which was the case a lot of times last year."

The Lady Pirates' starting lineup also includes 5-11 soph Jessica Slack, an 84 percent free throw shooter, and six-foot junior Nicole Days, who is averaging 6.9 rebounds per game. The playing rotation also features guards Impris Manning, who averages 5.3 points, and sophomore Gabriela Husarova, a 6-1 product of Poprad, Slovakia.

The ECU women spent a lot of offseason and preseason emphasis on developing fundamentally and improving offensively.

"We try to run plays to people's strengths and let people do some of the things that they can do," Baldwin-Tener said.

This is Baldwin-Tener's fifth season at East Carolina. She took over a program that was 6-21 the season before her arrival. She took a 6-23 program at Mercer and went 16-13 the following season in 2001-02 before coming to ECU. The turnaround hasn't happened that quickly for the Lady Pirates.

"Our third year, we won 10 games and there were some times when I questioned whether we could ever get where we are right now," said the ECU coach. "Now that we are, we just want to move forward."

Baldwin-Tener and staff can now talk to future recruits about joining the program and maintaining ECU's success rather than being part of a journey to achieve it. The exposure on ESPN2 against Rutgers also will be beneficial to attracting prospective players.

The family side

Basketball has been a part of Baldwin-Tener's life since she played outside in Smyrna, GA, with her brother Brian when she was four years old. She began playing organized ball at age six and by her senior year in high school she was the 4-A player of the year in Georgia.

She played for coach Andy Landers at the University of Georgia. Her career goal was to teach and coach on the high school level.

"Probably from the time I was about 12, I knew I wanted to coach," Baldwin-Tener said.

Her plans were to teach and coach on the high school level. That changed when Landers put her on a college career path as a graduate assistant for the Bulldogs and, after one year, promoted her to an assistant's post.

She developed a reputation as an effective recruiter for a program that won two SEC titles and made two Final Four appearances during her seven years on the staff in Athens. She then accepted the challenge of starting a program from scratch at Life University in Atlanta, which competed in the NAIA. Life went 53-14 during her two seasons there.

After the turn-around season at Mercer, she was hired at ECU.

"Greenville is very similar to Athens," Baldwin-Tener said. "It's not quite as big but it's a college town. Everything that goes on revolves around the school. The support is huge."

Greenville is also home for her family of four. Her three-year old son Luke and 16-month old daughter Samantha have been born since she took over the Lady Pirates. Her husband, Matt, went to a rival high school in Smyrna. They both went to Georgia where he was a linebacker in football. They began dating after college.

Matt Tener student taught and coached defensive linemen at the highly-successful Greenville Rose this past football season.

"We kind of worked around the pregnancies," Baldwin-Tener said. "I was just out a couple of days with each of them. I also had my mother up here to help a little bit."

Raising a family and coaching college basketball is a demanding double-double.

"It's a hard thing and you have to kind of change your schedule," she said. "If there are any nights I can be home from five until eight until they go to bed and only play with them and then pick up work after they go to bed, that's what I try to do.

"It's very important to me to spend time with them."

Program support

Baldwin-Tener said she received about 200 e-mails after ECU won the Conference USA Tournament and punched its ticket for the NCAA event. There was a nice gathering on Monday night to view the bracket announcements at the Murphy Center.

University chancellor Steve Ballard and athletic director Terry Holland have strongly endorsed the Lady Pirates accomplishments.

The Pirates take on Rutgers as an underdog at Michigan State and, as such, may become a crowd favorite, unless they match up against the host Spartans.

"We probably won't have a lot of fans going, but I've seen that happen," Baldwin-Tener said. "Several times I've been on the opposite side when I was an assistant at Georgia. We would go places and the home team would cheer against us.

"That would be great if we could get some crowd support up there."

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03/15/2007 12:23:53 AM


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