Logan played big role in Lady Topper history


Posted on November 13, 2014 11:47 PM



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The history of Western Kentucky University’s Lady Topper Basketball and Logan County are intertwined from its beginnings. The late Frances Dawson (Brown) was one of the top players for the team in the early 1930s before it was shut down for decades. She played tennis on The Hill after that. Brenda Chapman (Strickler) had starred in tennis at Olmstead High School before girls basketball was reinstituted in high schools. Her path was the opposite of Dawson’s. She was Western’s number one tennis player before she gave that sport up to play basketball. She became the Lady Tops’ all-time leading scorer and went on to be MVP and Rookie of the Year in a women’s professional basketball league.

Then came along a third women’s basketball star from Olmstead, the great Lillie Mason. She was Miss Basketball in Kentucky playing for what were then the Ramblerettes under Coach Lugene Rogers. She was the first Miss Basketball that WKU signed and led Coach Paul Sanderford’s teams to two Finals Fours while being named MVP of two NCAA regionals. She played pro ball in Europe since there was no women’s pro league here at the time.

Another Olmstead connection came when Stacie Gamble not only played four years for Sanderford but served as the Lady Topper captain her junior and senior years. She had led Coach Bob Matthews’ Lady Panthers of Russellville to the regional finals, but she grew up in Olmstead where he dad, Russellville administrator Clarence Gamble, had played for the Rams.

Additionally, Logan County High School’s first girls star, Finley Baird, played two years at Lindsey Wilson Junior College before becoming a member of a Final Four team for the Lady Toppers. She wasn’t from Olmstead but now coaches some former Lady Rams as the head coach of the district champion LCHS Lady Cougars. Just like former Lady Topper Michelle Clark-Heard is bringing her alma mater, WKU, back to prominence, Finley Baird Woodard would love to take her Lady Cougars back to the regional finals, a status she reached twice under Coach Tim Owens at Auburn and Coach Jim Thompson at LCHS.

WKU basketball is on the verge of returning to its glory years, many people believe. One of the stars is Chastity Gooch, who played many games in the 13th District at the RHS and LCHS gyms while a Franklin-Simpson Lady Cat.

The following is a news release from WKU about the season that lies ahead.

From LaChina Robinson calling senior Chastity Gooch "one of the best players in the nation," to Rebecca Lobo calling the Lady Toppers one of the teams to watch for in the opening round of the tournament, the national media has again taken notice of the women's basketball program in Bowling Green, Ky.

Just three seasons ago though, WKU had completed a 9-21 season with freshmen Ileana Johnson, Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan completing their first year on the Hill.

Now seniors, the trio are ready to take a major step forward in continuing the proud legacy of Lady Topper Basketball and putting their own final imprints into the re-emergence of the proud program. The program rides into a new season with the mindset of #ToBeContinued, a nod to the continuing re-emergence of the team and a tip of the hat to the ever growing history of Lady Topper Basketball.

"It means to me, as a senior and #ToBeContinued being our motto this year, that what we started is going to be continued," said Alexis Govan. "There is a legacy that is definitely going to be left from us. There is a history that is going to keep growing, that started way before us and that we got to put our foot in and it's going to keep growing."

"It means a lot. I remember them telling me about the Final Fours and the championship history here throughout my recruiting process," said Govan. "It had been a long time since they had won so to be part of a team that got to be part of a conference title and got to be in the NCAA Tournament is a great thing and is special. WKU is special. To be part of getting it back to the old days is really special."

WKU's 13-win improvement between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons set a new conference record. The eight win improvement amongst conference games was tied for the league record. WKU also became the first team in Sun Belt Conference history to win 20 games in the season following a year in which the team won less than 10 games with the 22-win season in 2012-13. On a national scale, the 13-win improvement tied for the fourth largest in the nation. Texas Southern had the best improvement in the nation by going from five wins to 20 wins between 2011-12 to 2012-13.

"We need to keep continuing with success," said Kendall Noble. "We ended last season on a really good run and we want it to carry over into the upcoming season.

"Riding a seven-game winning streak into the Sun Belt Conference Championships, the Lady Toppers were seeded second in the field and faced a difficult journey to the championship. WKU responded by putting together three tight wins to earn the Sun Belt Conference's automatic bid into the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

Having gotten a taste of postseason success a year earlier with a Women's NIT win over East Carolina in overtime, the Lady Toppers found their postseason groove in New Orleans, posting wins over Louisiana-Lafayette (67-61 on March 12) and UALR (66-62 on March 14) to setup a rematch between the top two seeds in the tournament, a battle against Arkansas State.

After facing a 14-point second half deficit, WKU scored 18 of the final 22 points of the game to beat the Red Wolves, marking the fourth time during the 2013-14 season that WKU had overcome a double-digit deficit to win a game. Chastity Gooch had 26 points and 12 rebounds to lead WKU while redshirt freshman Kendall Noble hit a layup with 1:21 remaining in the game that would become the difference maker in the one-point win. Noble finished with 12 points.

WKU was given a 15-seed for the NCAA Tournament and placed in the South Bend Regional to face fifth-ranked Baylor at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The Lady Toppers fought valiantly, taking a lead late in the first half and cutting the deficit to five at 70-65 in the second half before placing a scare in the Lady Bears and falling 87-74. Gooch and Noble made their names known on a national level in the contest, as Gooch scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Noble had 21 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The play of Wade Trophy winner Odyssey Sims (31 points) and freshman All-American Nina Davis (32 points, 10 rebounds on 11-of-13 shooting) were too much for the Lady Toppers to handle in the end.

Following the season, Gooch earned Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second-straight season while Noble was named the league's Freshman of the Year. Gooch was also a WBCA All-Region selection and a CollegeSportsMadness.com Mid-Major All-American selection.

After all the success of the 2013-14 season, the team wants to continue its march to prominence.

"It means we don't want to go backwards," said Micah Jones. "We have had two successful seasons since Coach Clark-Heard got here, and we want to make sure to not go backwards and keep getting better."

CHEMISTRY NOT AN ISSUE FOR LADY TOPPERS

Much of the success in 2014-15 will be tied to the close-knit group that Coach Michelle Clark-Heard has assembled.

"I think our chemistry is even better this year," said Micah Jones. "This year it is off the charts. The freshmen came in and worked really hard and everyone else has gotten better. Adding the freshmen has only helped us. Everyone is working hard and now we have a big challenge ahead. Everyone is excited about that challenge... We spend a whole lot of time together. There is no fighting or bickering. Everyone understands each other. We play a lot of pickup and we all understand how everyone plays. Hopefully we will continue to do that."

"We have developed better chemistry," said Noble. “With the freshmen, I think everyone gets along. We have a bit of a different mindset. We made it to the tournament last year and now we have a strong focus on making it back."

The team has bonded well through time on campus during the summer and some demanding travel over the last two seasons. WKU will have played in at least 14 different states, plus Puerto Rico, during the Michelle Clark-Heard era at the conclusion of the upcoming regular season.

"Our relationships make us special," said Micah Jones. "We can yell at each other on the court, and going back to chemistry, we are not going to get mad at each other." "Off the court," said Gooch, "it is amazing how we get along with one another. The chemistry is really good on the team."

"We have a lot of experience, we have some newcomers," said Govan. "What makes us special has nothing to do with the basketball aspect though, it's that we trust each other off the court. We want the best for each other off the court, which translates on the court. When you have a good relationship with your teammates and you truly care for each other, it will show on the court. Our bond is what is really special."

The team has its sights set on establishing itself as a power in Conference USA from the start and improving on its NCAA Tournament appearance from a year ago.

"I just want to help my team get back to the NCAA Tournament, win the games we are supposed to win," said Gooch. "Playing at Baylor is one of the best feelings in the world. I want to be able to experience that again, especially for Alexis."

Taking Baylor to the brink last season in the NCAA Tournament put the nation on notice and gave the Lady Toppers a boatload of confidence heading into the new season.

"The Baylor game gave us a lot of confidence," said Gooch. "Coach was talking to us about the difference in being cocky and confident and going into this season, we need to be confident."

"Since the Baylor game, everyone has realized that we can do this," said Govan. "It helped us get a mentality that we are supposed to be good, we are supposed to win games. Everyone knows that they are supposed to play their role and be great at it. It is expected now. We know we are good and we have to go out and show everyone that and let (the fans, the media, national perception) buy into that, just like we have."

The program also is looking to build back the fan base that once regularly sold out games in E.A. Diddle Arena.

"I thank them for all the support," said Alexis Govan. "To come from what we were as freshmen and for them to have faith to see what we were becoming and are, we couldn't be more appreciative of them. Keep coming and keep supporting, it is only going to get better."

CLARK-HEARD HAS THE PRIDE BACK AT WKU

Not many coaches have the chance to hold the unique "dream job" of coaching their alma mater.

Now the WKU graduate has the program back on the road to national prominence. Clark-Heard became one of just 56 coaches in NCAA history to lead their alma mater to the NCAA Division One Women's Basketball Tournament and one of three to join the list in 2013-14 when she helped lead the Lady Toppers back to the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

"What Michelle Clark-Heard has done is instilled pride back in Western Kentucky," said ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck during the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. "It had become a state where (Kentucky's) Matthew Mitchell and (Louisville's) Jeff Walz were really owning the state in recruiting. Now with Michelle Clark-Heard, with the passion and pride she has, because she was a player at Western Kentucky, she is bringing that back to Bowling Green."

WKU became one of only five schools to have multiple graduates come back to the program and lead their alma maters to the tournament. The others are USC, Creighton, Oregon State and Louisiana Tech. Alongside her former teammate Mary Taylor-Cowles, Michelle Clark-Heard joined the USC duo of Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and Cheryl Miller as the only teammates in NCAA history to return to their alma mater and lead their teams to the NCAA Tournament as head coaches.

The acolades are of little importance compared to the praise of her players, who have responded to her individual player development.

"I love that Coach is going to challenge you every day, in every aspect, on and off the court," said Govan. "She challenges us all to be better people, to grow and to show our personalities. On the court, she wants you to get better. She knows our strengths and weaknesses. She is so passionate. You can tell by the way she coaches that she wants us to be great and she wants this program to be great."

Govan is among those who have enjoyed the most improvement as a player under Clark-Heard's guidance. Govan saw her scoring average increase by 13.7 points per contest while seeing her field goal shooting rise by .086 and three-point field goal percentage jump by .274 between her freshman and sophomore seasons once Clark-Heard arrived back on the Hill.

WKU will host LA Tech and first-year head coach Tyler Summitt, the son of legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, on Jan. 29 before entertaining Southern Miss on Jan. 31. WKU returns to Texas for the second time in three weeks the following week to face North Texas (Feb. 5) and Rice (Feb. 7).

GOOCH ONE OF THE BEST IN THE NATION

No one improved their stock on a national level during the 2013-14 postseason like WKU senior All-American candidate Chastity Gooch.

"Chastity Gooch has given me every reason to believe she is one of the best players in the nation," said ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson during WKU's conference championship game win over Arkansas State last year.

Gooch enjoyed a prolific season on the court in 2013-14, earning Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive season, becoming just the second player in league history to win the award in back-to-back seasons. Gooch is the only Lady Topper player to win the award in program history. The honor was first handed out in 1996-97."She does everything well," said Noble. "You can't stop her really. She is so strong and skilled. She is like a guard in a post player’s body.

It is a major improvement from the 2011-12 campaign in which she averaged just 6.1 points per outing while playing 22.1 minutes and shooting just 35.5 percent.

"Chastity has come a long way," said Govan. "Everyone sees the player she is now, but not many people know what it was like for her as a freshman. She has bought into working out and staying extra, doing the extra running. It has paid off. You can really tell she has bought in and is committed to being the best on the court. We knew she could do it in the post, but now she can step out and shoot it consistently, handle the ball and can run the floor with the best of them. She has come a long way."

Her efforts over the last two seasons have positioned her to finish her career among the top players in program history.

She has the third most rebounds of any player in program history entering their senior season and the sixth most points of any player in program history entering their senior season. Of the five players to enter their senior season with more points than Gooch, all finished in the top seven in program history in scoring with four of the five finishing as the top four scorers in program history.

Despite continuing to extend her range, Gooch maintained a 51.2 percent shooting clip and hit 21-of-48 shots from behind the three-point arc last season.

"I have been working on my outside shot a little bit more and my ball handling has gotten a little bit better in the offseason," said Gooch.

"Chastity is going to come work hard every day," said teammate Jones. "You are never going to hear her complain. She is going hard in the weight room. She is going to take care of business in the classroom and she is going to show up at practice everyday."

Gooch also enters the 2014-15 season as the active leading scorer in Conference USA and among the top 20 in the nation.

Noble quickly made adjustments in her game that would make her among the most versatile players in the nation. She finished the season as the only freshman in the nation averaging at least 10.0 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per contest in conference play last year.Noble finished her redshirt freshman campaign with 342 points, an average of 11.0 per game. In program history, Noble is one of just 11 players to reach 275 points or more during their freshman season at WKU. She finished the year ranked seventh in WKU history for WKU freshmen. All-time leading scorer Crystal Kelly owns the WKU record for points by a freshmen with 579.

Noble, best known for her trademark moves to the basket and ability to create shots in the air feels she has added extra strength that could help her improve on her trademark skill. "I have gotten stronger," said Noble. "Hopefully that carries over onto the court."

NEW FACES WILL CONTRIBUTE

The Lady Toppers added three players to the roster for the 2013-14 season, including WKU's first Kentucky Miss Basketball signee out of high school since Crystal Kelly in 2004 in Ivy Brown. She is joined in the signing class by Tashia Brown and Jaiveonna Norris.

Ivy Brown was rated among the top 75 players nationally to headline the class that was ranked among the top 80 in the nation and near the top of Conference USA.

The duo of unrelated Browns has made a noticeable impact in summer workouts and preseason practices for WKU.

"Tashia has been really good since she got here," said Jones. "She is working hard in pickup. She is holding her own in practice and working hard in the weight room, like everyone else. Her conditioning is getting better and better and she has really fit in well since she got here."

"Tashia is really versatile," said Kendall Noble. "She can score and is really long and hard to defend. Being left handed, it's hard to guard her."

 




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