EDINBURG — A new skipper is at the helm of the UTRGV women’s basketball team. When the Vaqueros tip-off against Texas Lutheran at 7 p.m. Saturday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse, the Lane Lord era will begin.
Lord replaces the winningest coach in program history, Larry Tidwell, who coached the team to its first winning seasons at the NCAA Division I level and two WAC Tournament finals.
The new bench boss guided Division II institution Pittsburg State in Kansas for the past 11 years, taking the Gorillas to the national elite eight twice.
Even though fans might be getting their first look at Lord, he’s been in the Rio Grande Valley since summer.
“We got here in June and we were able to get the players here in July,” Lord said. “All five of the coaching staff got to know the players, got to know their personalities. Then we got to get on the floor and practice, putting in the new system. Having those six weeks in August was a big bonus for us.”
Quynne Huggins, UTRGV’s leading scorer a season ago, is in a completely different place than a year ago. The Arizona native was cleared to play just before the season after a battle with thyroid cancer that included quarantine, radioactive iodine pills and extreme weight loss.
“It was an emotional roller coaster for me to try to maintain psychological and emotional composure,” Huggins said. “Because the game is really just being mentally tough and I think that was probably my weakest point ever in my life to deal with something like that. Comparing last year to this year I don’t have to worry about trying to catch up with everybody.”
The 5-foot-11 guard, who had 10.2 points per game in the season after a turbulent offseason, is getting a running start this year.
“I was able to come back down here for the summer session and get a head start on lifting,” Huggins said.
The senior wasn’t fazed by adjusting to a new coach, she’s had different coaches each of her collegiate seasons after stops at Utah Valley as a freshman and Mesa Community College as a sophomore.
“It wasn’t something that was really new to me, I’ve always dealt with new coaches and new coaching staffs,” Huggins said. “When I found out what kind of offense and defense we’re going to be running I was really excited. And knowing our personnel and our team it was definitely going to benefit us.”
The offense is hoping to rely on movement and speed to negate a lack of height. Ruth Nwokora, Krisynthia Sampson and Makaela Mosley are both 6-feet tall and represent the tallest Vaqueros.
Meagan Johnson played well as a sophomore for UTRGV. The Australian scored 9.0 points per game and hauled in 158 rebounds, topped only by Sampson’s 183.
Her mobility and ability to play forward or guard will help with depth in Lord’s first season.
Forward Madison Northcutt is following Lord from his Pittsburg State team to play her fifth year of eligibility. Standing at 5-foot-11-inches and hailing from Wichita, Kansas, Northcutt says she loves to study film and aspires to be a coach one day.
She hopes to be an impact and a liaison between the returners and the new system.
“I’ve been running this four years so I basically know it like the back of my hand, head-to-toe, everything,” Northcutt said. “It’s really helpful cause I can coach the girls a little bit and then they teach me what they know. We all just put our heads together and do the best we can.”
UTRGV will wrap up its two-game homestead to open the season Monday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
The Vaqueros head out to their first road trip starting with UTSA on Wednesday.
Non-conference will end with a bang as UTRGV will test its mettle against top-tier in-state competition.
The Fieldhouse will host Big 12 powerhouse University of Texas on Dec. 20 before UTRGV travels to College Station to face Texas A&M on Dec. 29 and the Baylor Bears on New Year’s Eve.
WAC play begins at home against California Baptist on Jan. 5 to mark the first action in 2019.