April 4, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Matt Daniel and his Marshall women’s basketball staff are headed on the road again. This time, it’s not for recruiting, where the Herd’s staff has been seen for miles and miles.
Daniel, the Herd’s coach pointing toward his second season, is going to the Final Four in New Orleans with his assistants in tow. They’ll head out Friday, watch Sunday night’s national semifinals (Louisville-Cal, Notre Dame-UConn), and then return Monday.
“I think it’s important that we’re out there, think it’s important for their growth,” Daniel said of his young staff, with an average age in the low 30s.
However, Daniel’s planning for the 2013-14 season – and beyond – is about like the work on the Herd’s new soccer stadium that will open in August.
Construction continues … whether it’s recruiting, scheduling or roster movement.
After a 9-21 season in his Herd debut – 3-13 in Conference USA play -- Daniel isn’t shy about making schedule adjustments to help the Herd grow and prosper. He’s gone through a similar building job at his previous head coaching stop, Central Arkansas.
His first-season surprise?
“I was surprised at how much room we have to grow from a basketball IQ standpoint,” Daniel said.
In his first season, the Herd played half (15 of 30) of its games against 12 teams that made the postseason (NCAA, WNIT, WBI). Now, after pretty much standing pat with the team he inherited when he got the job last May 27, Daniel is reshaping things.
“Essentially, we’ll have only nine seasons of Division I basketball experience on the floor next season,” Daniel said in his Cam Henderson Center office Thursday. “We’ll sign some junior college kids, but they’ll be new (to major college hoops), and we just haven’t played lot of Division I basketball.
“So, it will just be interesting as we continue to grow and change, and thankfully our administration understands that. You look at our non-conference schedule or where it’s headed, and look at the conference schedule this past year, look at the two running parts together.”
For 2013-14, with the membership changes in C-USA, the Herd will have 13 regular-season games (nine league, four non-conference) against 2013 postseason clubs.
“Six teams from C-USA went to the postseason,” Daniel said, “and one that didn’t was UCF (16-18), which went the conference tournament final and was playing well late. UTEP (22-10) didn’t go either. This is a postseason league and we’re trying to figure out how to get into that mix.
“Hopefully, we get there sooner than later, but we’re also trying to set up a schedule that will help us do that and where we can have confidence going into conference play and have some success -- because quite honestly, the kids here haven’t had that a whole lot.
“So, that’s where we’re headed and I’m excited about that and I’m excited about the support our administration gives us, and it certainly helps as you’re trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle that makes for a successful experience for the young ladies that you have a vested interest in.”
In league play, Marshall will play 16 games, 14 foes once (7 home, 7 road) and Old Dominion home-and-home in what the conference in a one-year format (before membership is altered again) calls a “rival” game.
Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa will remain in the conference in 2013-14, while Western Kentucky won’t have moved from the Sun Belt until the following season. C-USA is losing Memphis, SMU, Houston and UCF.
C-USA ranked No. 8 in conference RPI this season, behind the so-called six “power” conferences and the West Coast Conference. Nine of the 12 C-USA teams this past season were in the RPI top 140.
“We’re losing some people like Memphis and SMU -- they went to the WNIT -- but we’re gaining a Middle Tennessee, which went to NCAA Tournament,” Daniel said. “Western Kentucky, FIU went to the WNIT; so did Old Dominion and Charlotte. It’s not getting any easier. Heck, it might be even tougher. “So, we’re trying to look at that, be cognizant of it, and be realistic about where we are and where we want to go and be true to the process to get there.”
In non-conference play, Daniel said he’s still working on scheduling, but the Herd will play West Virginia in the Charleston Civic Center (in mid-December), and go to Robert Morris, NJIT and UMass-Lowell (a new Division I member, in the America East Conference). Those teams will return games to “The Cam” the following year.
At home, Daniel said the Herd has Morehead State – “the previous staff scheduled that and we couldn’t get as date worked out this past season,” he said – and have return games from Navy, Indiana State, Eastern Kentucky and Southern Illinois.
Wofford is another newcomer, and the Herd expects to play two or three non-Division I opponents at home.
Navy and West Virginia were in the NCAA bracket. Indiana State played in the WNIT.
Daniel said the Herd’s roster is going to look very different, with only six scholarship players returning, “and we have 15 scholarships total.”
The Herd lost post players Veronica Ruiz and Leandra King, who finished their eligibility, and Daniel said sophomore wing Shay Weaver – she set the MU single-season record for 3-point goals this season – and backup freshman guard Jennifer Ramirez are not returning to the program.
Marshall landed five high school players during the November signing period.
Asked how many more players he hopes to sign, Daniel said, “We’re going to sign between three and six, and the number depends on if they’re the right ones. We’re not going to sign people just to sign people or waste money.
“We signed all high school players early, and now we’ll sign all junior college players late, unless there’s a find out there, someone who can contribute immediately.”
Is he looking for guards or bigs?
“Players,” Daniel said. “We want players … just players. So many times – we’ve got a commitment already in the 2015 class – we talk about recruiting, what position is she, everybody asks that.
“I don’t really get caught up in positions, it’s all about whether she can guard at the defensive end of the floor because we just take advantage of mismatches at the offensive end. So we’re just looking for kids who can play.”
He said he doesn’t expect any Division I transfers this offseason, and indicated the recruiting focus – as much as possible – will be keeping Mountain State players home.
“We want to make sure we get kids who want to be here,” Daniel said. “I’d rather – this is where we’re headed – I’d rather have really good kids and hope we are good, as opposed to going out and selling l ourselves to be really good, and hope they’re good kids.
“We want kids who are bought into Marshall, kids that understand the pride that this culture has, and kids that will fight for that – and there are kids locally, that are like that, in basically every class, 2014, 2015, 2016, kids in West Virginia like that.”
Daniel took a 6-23 team in his first Central Arkansas season and flipped it to 21-8 in Year 2. Asked to compare that with his current situation, the Herd coach said C-USA is superior to the Southland Conference that UCA called home, “but that’s all comparative.
“Here’s the biggest difference: At UCA, I was hired in the middle of the year before my first coaching season, so I could go recruiting,” Daniel said. “But here I was hired not long before the school year started, so you’re basically a year and a half behind between those two fronts.”
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One of Daniel’s starters and top returnees, Erica Woods, was honored earlier this week with one of the winter C-USA Spirit of Service Awards. Each C-USA member school has one honoree for the fall, winter and spring sports seasons.
Woods, a redshirt junior from Bermuda by way of Florida’s IMG Academy, topped the Herd team with a 3.60 GPA last semester and earned her MU bachelor’s degree in physical education and sports marketing at midyear graduation – in 3 1/2 years.
She led basketball clinics at St. Joseph’s Preschool and for the Huntington Girl Scouts. She has visited VA patients, volunteered at the Sweetheart Clinic and led warmups before she participated in a community Breast Cancer Awareness Walk.
Woods led the Herd in assists and ranked second in scoring (9.5 ppg). The sports management major also has a 2-year-old son, Zion.
The C-USA Spirit of Service awards are designed to recognize the community service efforts of the league's student-athletes, based upon significant community service, good academic standing and participation in their sport.
Men’s soccer player Jack Hopkins won the fall Spirit of Service honor for the Herd.
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Last – but clearly not least – kudos for a well-deserved honor for the “pioneer” of women’s athletics at Marshall.
Dr. Dot Hicks, the retired coach, administrator and professor at MU, was named Wednesday as winner of the annual Lowell Cade Sportsperson of the Year award by The Herald-Dispatch. Cade was a longtime sportswriter and editor at the Huntington newspaper.
Hicks, 82, was honored for “her decades of dedication to women’s sports, education and Marshall University.”
Hicks created the Herd’s intercollegiate women’s sports program, coached several sports and chaired the physical education department. She retired in 1999 after more than three decades at MU and still lives in Huntington.
The Marshall Softball stadium (Dot Hicks Field) is named in her honor.