The East Central women's basketball team will carry a five-game winning streak into the new year.
What a difference 365 days has meant for veteran head coach Kent Franz and his club.
The Lady Tigers recorded an impressive 8-2 pre-holiday record — super impressive considering the ECU women finished the 2011-12 season with a subpar 8-18 overall mark.
"We've already matched our win total from all of last year, and it's not even Christmas yet so the kids are sky high right now," Franz said after his team held off St. Mary's, Texas 83-80 last Wednesday inside the Kerr Activities Center.
How big of an improvement have the Lady Tigers made? Last year, ECU lost eight of its first nine contests. That's right, Franz had to endure his team's 1-8 start after a 70-56 setback to Cameron Dec. 31, 2011.
"Probably the biggest reason for the turnaround, from the very first meeting of the postseason last spring until our last practice, we've demanded a lot more accountability," Franz said. "We've holding everybody accountable for their actions. It's been kind of a rededication for all of us."
The Lady Tigers have made the dramatic turnaround with the same players that suffered through last year's season.
"We had seven new kids on last year's team and they are all back this year. We all understand each other better — where we're going to be, what are strengths and weaknesses are. We just never got all on the same page last year, not consistent enough anyway. We're a lot more consistent this year," Franz said. "The theme has kind of been that you either get all in or you get out and they've bought in to it."
The ECU women have been in a number of tight battles so far this season. In fact, ECU is four points away from sporting an undefeated record.
"Right now, we're 8-2 and our last eight ballgames we've won or lost by single digits. Our two losses were by two points each, and those were games we had chances to win, and maybe should have," Franz said. "But I don't know if we had won those, we would know as much as we know now about our team."
More times than not, the Lady Tigers from a year ago would come out on the wrong end of close contests.
"Last year, even when we were 1-8, we would play 30 minutes of pretty good basketball (per game) but those other 10 would get us beat because we weren't paying attention to detail — the little things," Franz said. "This year, we've been through some pressure situations and handled it well. Last year, we found a way to give those type of games away and we're not doing that. We're understanding that one play here or there may be the difference in a game and not necessarily the last play."
Despite starting only two of ECU's first 10 games, senior Lindsay McCown is the Lady Tigers' leading scorer at 12.5 points per game. Dilan Webster, a sophomore, is the only other ECU player averaging double figures at 10.0 per outing. But five other Lady Tigers are averaging at least six points per outing.
"They believe and they're confident. They understand if they do things right, it gives them a great chance to win, no matter who we're playing," Franz said. "And we also understand that if we don't, we have a chance to come out on the wrong end of it too."
Sophomore Erin Walling, a graduate of Ada High School, has started eight games for the Lady Tigers and is 6.2 points per game and has made 10 3-pointers, second best on the team.
East Central dives head first into Great American Conference play when it returns from the holiday break with home games against Arkansas-Monticello on Jan. 3 (at 5:30 p.m.) and Southern Arkansas Jan. 5 (at 2 p.m.). Following that home stand, four of ECU's next five contests will be on the road.
"You can see it with every game. Our kids are starting to believe more and more in each other," Franz said. "They know what this team is capable of, and it's sure an enjoyment to be able to coach this bunch. We're enjoying the ride right now."