Eckelberry moved Shepherd in right direction
Jenna Eckelberry made a lasting impression in only her first year as college head coach.
In giving Shepherd a heady turnaround to its listing fortunes, Eckelberry was named the Women’s Coach of the Year for the 12-school Mountain East Conference.
What did she accomplish?
Shepherd had won only four games in the 2013-14 women’s basketball season. The Rams were more than imperfect. They were losing by enormous point spreads and being embarrassed more times than not.
Then Eckelberry was hired from the coaching staff at Fairmont.
In her first season with the Rams she guided the team to a 22-10 season and a tie for first place in the conference after the 22-game regular season. Shepherd, as well as Charleston and West Liberty, all finished with 17-5 regular season records.
With her second season about ready to begin, Eckelberry has to replace four starters from last year’s team of resurgence. The 2014-15 seniors were Rachel Johnson, Gabby Flinchum, Alex Weakland and Briana Vaden.
A recruiting class of five new faces has two sophomores and three freshmen.
Kayla Tibbs played last at Glenville where she scored over eight points a game. She is 5-foot-9 and an athletic inside player. Tiffany McKinney is a sophomore from Anne Arundel Community College and is also 5-foot-9. McKinney scored 23 points a game in the Maryland Community College circles. Kari Lankford is a 5-foot-7 freshman from West York (Pa.) High.
Elizabeth Moorman is a 5-foot-10 freshman who played at Oakdale High in Maryland. Kristen Nunn is a freshman from Martinsburg High.
Probably the best scorer among the returnees is sophomore guard Morgan Aden. Inside player Liz Myers has always been an able rebounder, while guard Sammy Bane has been continually dulled by injuries in her years at Shepherd.
Cara Mason has been a starter at point guard during her two-year stint with the team. Sometimes her inconsistencies have been too noticeable and she could be pushed to remain a starter this season.
Hailey Brown started in Shepherd’s overwhelming loss to WVU in an exhibition game this season. Brown has never scored well, but is about 5-foot-11 and could receive considerable minutes in the early going. Kristina Prange is still another 5-foot-11 inside player whose scoring has been sparse in the past.
Eckelberry has managed to give Shepherd an unheard of 15 home games this season. The season begins on Saturday, Nov. 14, with a 3:30 p.m. home game against Virginia Union (9-18 last season). On Sunday, Nov. 15, the Rams are at home again for a 2 p.m. game against Winston-Salem State (11-17 last season).
Shepherd steps up to Division I competition on Dec. 19 when it plays many-times conference champion Liberty University in Lynchburg.
Shepherd was invited to its first-ever NCAA Division II national tournament after last year’s stellar regular season. In its first tournament game, Shepherd defeated Indiana of Pennsylvania, a team that had beaten it by about 30 points in the regular season. Bloomsburg (Pa.) ushered the Rams out of the postseason in the Regional’s second round.
Losing Johnson and Flinchum means Eckelberry has to find scoring from about every corner because those two players are among the all-time leading point producers in Shepherd history.
But after moving the win total from four in 2013-14 all the way to 22 last season means Eckelberry knows how to handle adversity and gives the Rams a creditable resource on their sideline.