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In Sheryl Swoopes country, girls’ basketball thrives

February 20, 1997

CANYON, Texas (AP) _ Joe Lombard knew better than to ask his girls’ basketball team to go undefeated for a second straight year. Not in West Texas, anyway.

``Our only goal was to win another state championship,″ said Lombard, who took the 1992 and ’96 titles at Canyon, which has won seven total. ``The competition is too tough out here to expect to go undefeated for an entire season.″

At 31-0, Canyon indeed is undefeated going into this weekend’s Class 4A regional championship against rival Levelland (29-3), coached by Dean Weese, who has won six state championships in 17 seasons.

To get this far, both perennial powers had to survive Texas’ toughest girls’ basketball proving ground. Remember, this is the region that produced Sheryl Swoopes.

Since a girls’ state championship was established in 1950, teams from West Texas have won 77 of a possible 187 trophies, or 41 percent. Since 1976, girls from out west have won 55 of 101 titles. They won all five in 1986 and 1990, and have won at least two crowns per year since 1982.

``It’s almost sad when you know that some state championship games are played in regional tournaments,″ said Johnna Pointer, who grew up in Shallowater, played at Texas and now coaches Wayland Baptist.

Even as the game has evolved from girls playing offense and defense separately to full-court action, West Texas has remained a hotbed.

``I think one reason is that early on, the small schools had girls’ basketball and the big schools didn’t,″ said Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp, who grew up in the Panhandle. ``It was a building process from there up.″

Sharp and Swoopes may have drawn attention the region by winning the NCAA title in 1993, but they were far from being the first West Texas gals to conquer the country.

From the 1950s to the late ’70s, the Flying Queens of Wayland Baptist in Plainview were among the country’s best women’s teams.

Many knew the school for its colorful nickname, earned because Wayland alumnus and aviator Claude Hutcherson began flying the team to road games in 1948. The tradition is still carried on two decades after Hutcherson’s death by his son, Mike Hutcherson.

But Wayland also plays serious women’s hoops. The Flying Queens are the sport’s winningest program at 1,239-292 in 48 seasons, they own the all-time college winning streak (131 in the 1950s) and they’ve won 10 amateur national championships.

Two of those came under Weese, who arrived in 1973 following a successful career at Spearman High School and is often credited for helping lay the groundwork for girls’ basketball in this part of the country.

He definitely helped the career of Sharp, hiring her to coach Wayland’s freshman squad after she had been a Flying Queen for two seasons.

``Some have said that they had the two best teams in the country,″ said Ray Glass, veteran women’s basketball writer for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Wayland is still a force in the small-school NAIA these days under Pointer. She’s in her first season there after having helped turn around the program at Frank Phillips College in Borger.

``When people think about women’s basketball, they think about the University of Texas, Texas Tech, Tennessee and the top Division I schools,″ she said. ``I think Wayland is right up there in terms of impact on women’s basketball.″

Many of the locals credit their long-running success to having sound programs, and not just individual stars or an occasionally loaded team.

``With the game being played below the rim, skills are at a premium,″ Lombard said. ``We begin working with the girls in seventh grade.″

Texas Tech point guard Melinda Schmucker might be a freshman, but basketball is nothing new. Five siblings preceded her on tiny Nazareth’s basketball courts, where Lombard coached them.

``I had a great start there because we start so young,″ Schmucker said. ``The high school and junior high coaches get involved when you’re in elementary school.″

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