|Senior Victoria McGowan is playing in her third straight A-Sun Championship final.|
By DANIEL SHIRLEY
After the past couple of games at Hawkins Arena, the Stetson Hatters players have joked a bit about their head coach being a little unpleasant during games and practices. Well, maybe not just a little unpleasant.
That’s fine, Stetson head coach Lynn Bria insists. In fact, she agrees.
Bring up the senior class to Bria however, even after a win, and she gets a little emotional and shows her softer side.
“Wow, it’s hard, I can’t even talk about it,” Bria said after her team’s win over Mercer on Friday in the 2013 General Shale A-Sun Basketball Championships semifinals. “I don’t want to talk about that. I can’t. I can’t talk about them because I love them. As unpleasant as I am, I love them.”
There was plenty to love about the Hatters’ performance in their 67-52 win over the Bears that places them in the championship final for the third straight year.
A lot of that had to do with seniors Shanasa Sanders and Victoria McGowan, and junior Sasha Sims. Sims led the way with 19 points, while Sanders had 17, and McGowan had 12.
McGowan, who dominated the offense last year out of necessity, added 11 rebounds and five assists.
“It was a little more pleasant this time (at halftime than during the team’s first-round game),” Bria said. “But really, I’m not that pleasant any time.”
The Hatters’ veteran group likely will need to be strong again Saturday in the championship final against Florida Gulf Coast if Stetson is going win its second conference tournament title in three years. Stetson won the tournament two years ago but lost last year in the finals to FGCU. The Hatters have lost all five meetings with the Eagles over the past two seasons.
“Every team is different,” Bria said. “This group here, they’re a year older and more mature. I feel like we’re a better team than we were last year. I feel like we share the ball more. Last year, we were the Victoria McGowan show, and the offense we ran was just that. She had the ball 90 percent of the time, and she shot the ball. But she was supposed to; she did what I asked her to do.
“This year’s team, we share the ball more. I have asked her to pass more and get her teammates open, where more people touch the ball.”
That game plan has paid off with a 23-8 record, the 23 wins tying the program record for wins in a season. One more win Saturday would break that record and send the Hatters back to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s much more special because I’m a senior, and tomorrow we’re going to come out and try to win that championship,” Sanders said.
That would be a perfect way for the members of this senior class to close out their career.
“I think it’s very special because we started a tradition, and we want to finish it out, especially the seniors,” McGowan said. “I think they’re a great team, but we have confidence in ourselves. We’re not going to lay down and die and let them walk all over us. We’re going to come out and play hard and play a good game.”