By Nick Eatman
Lone Star Conference Reporter
ALLEN, Texas – In her first three seasons as Texas A&M-Commerce, head coach Nicole Anderson led the Lions to eight wins, including just two all of last year.
A full calendar year, 11 victories and an LSC Coach of the Year award later, the culture has certainly changed quite a bit for the A&M-Commerce women's program.
Those changes were never more evident than Wednesday afternoon in the opening game of the 2013 LSC Championship in Allen. Facing the No. 2 seed and co-champion Abilene Christian, Anderson's Lions were the tougher, more energetic team that stunned the Wildcats for an 80-79 quarterfinal win.
It was the first postseason victory for the Lions since 2009 but Anderson said it was more meaningful than that.
"I'd say this is definitely the biggest win since we've been here," said Anderson. "These kids made the decision: no more here-we-go-again. It's written on the board (in the locker room) to 'leave it out there.' I believe we left it out there."
And that's what Anderson's team has done all year long. Coming off a 2-24 season in 2012, A&M-Commerce is now 11-15 this year. The dramatic turnaround earned Anderson 2012 LSC Co-Coach of the Year honors.
Ironically enough, Anderson shared the award with Julie Goodenough, whose ACU team struggled all day with the Lions, who owned a 50-24 rebounding edge. Commerce junior forward Breanna Harris had 25 points and 15 rebounds.
"All year long ,we've dominated people on the boards," Anderson said. "(Harris) is a very good offensive rebounder. She has the mentality that it's not about getting rebounds for herself, but that her team needs those rebounds and she's going to get them."
But Wednesday's win is just an example of what Anderson has stressed to her team all year long.
"We do quite a bit of film. We watch ourselves. We watch who we're playing again. The first thing is education and understanding how talented we are. That's a reality," Anderson said. "We know where we are. We know the games we've lost this season have been breakdowns on our part. It's us doing it to ourselves.
"The second thing has been an absolute buy-in by them. They've made a commitment to follow through on the workouts, the nutrition and sleep that's necessary, and the work that is necessary to change the culture and change the mindset of our program. The third thing, the energy level they bring. They never hang their heads, no matter what. We've lost some games by 20. They just knew they were capable."
Commerce junior guard Danielle Dixon said Anderson has instilled a belief her team just didn't have the past few seasons.
"We're always underdogs, but we just came in with confidence," Dixon said. "Coach always tells us to be confident and focus on this year and not last year. But we're just a hungry team. We wanted to so bad and we went out there and took it."
Anderson, who played for Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA developmental team and starred at UCLA, said she wasn't much of a scorer in college, but was considered a tenacious defender.
"I think you get a little bit of me in the way we defend," Anderson said. "I wasn't much of a scorer. You see a little bit of the tenacity and energy level that I played with."
Harris said that mental toughness has rubbed off on her and her teammates.
"Coach is always keeping us motivated and positive," Harris said. "Her motivation means a lot because she's a woman that has accomplished a lot. We look up to her. So her motivation motivates us."
In fact, it has motivated the Lions into the semifinals of LSC Championships in Allen.