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WOODWARD: Youth movement provides timely spark

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East Carolina freshman guard Lashonda Monk scores against Cincinnati on Dec. 30, 2017.


The Daily Reflector

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The East Carolina women’s basketball team will honor three players for senior day today before taking on underdog Temple for the Pirates’ final home game of the season.

Mickayla Sanders, Thais Oliveira and Tania Pierre-Emile all transferred to ECU, which is consistent with previous recruiting tactics for the Pirates under eighth-year coach Heather Macy.

But looking on from the bench during the pregame festivities will be seven freshmen or sophomores, and most of them have played huge roles in the Pirates exceeding expectations with their 15-12 record and 7-7 mark in the American Athletic Conference. Sparked by these underclassmen during league play, ECU is tied for sixth place in the AAC standings despite being picked last in the American preseason poll.

This could be Macy’s best coaching job yet, and it has reversed the trajectory of the program after consecutive worrisome seasons.

The Pirates turning to their youth has showed promise for long-term sustainability and a shift from the quick-fix ways of the past, which was accompanied by great success but also high-risk pitfalls.

Jada Payne, Abria Trice, twins Britny and Whitny Edwards and others were great transfer gets for Macy and ECU, and it worked well in Conference USA. The Pirates even went 11-7 in their first year in the American in 2014-15 to cap the best three-year run in school history.

But the grind of the American proved that long-term vision was needed. Roster and staff turnover was costly for ECU, and things hit rock-bottom in 2017 when the Pirates finished 2-14 in the AAC for their lowest conference win total since 1994.

As the Pirates struggled to find wins on the court, Macy excelled in recruiting with an emphasis on finding the right high-schoolers.

Those recruits form the core of this team, from junior guard Alex Frazier to sophomore starter Dominique Claytor to freshmen scoring standouts Lashonda Monk, Necole Hope and Ariyana Williams.

ECU’s four freshmen are important now and their progression is paramount for the future. At various times this season, rookies have shown the ability to carry the team.

It has been impressive to watch, especially Monk and Hope as of late.

The seniors deserve their big moment today. All seniors do as they are on short time with their careers.

It’s also refreshing to see young East Carolina women’s basketball players who are bustling with potential and are years away from exhausting their eligibility.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.