Mary Hardin-Baylor women’s basketball team entered the 2018-2019 season with plenty of motivation. The Cru finished 23-5 overall last season and suffered a one-point loss in the American Southwest Conference Championship game.
Despite an outstanding resume, UMHB was left out of the NCAA Tournament when the at-large bids were announced. The Cru was also left out of the preseason national rankings despite returning their top three scorers.
“There were three components that provided motivation," head coach Mark Morefield said. "We’re up by one with 14 seconds to go and we end up losing the conference championship (game). The second thing that provided motivation was that we won 23 games and teams in the region that didn’t even win 23 games are getting in (at-large bid) and now we’re really irritated.
“The third part of motivation was that you’re still not getting the level of respect. You have three main returners coming back and you have some nice pieces coming in and you’re coming off a 23-win season and you’re only receiving votes (in the top 25 poll).
The Cru want to earn their bid to the NCAA Tournament this season by winning the conference tournament.
“You have to take care of your business," Morefield said. "You can’t leave that (tournament bid) up to a selection committee. You can’t leave that up to a strength of schedule or what you did head to head. The way to take care of business to go out and win the game (conference championship).
UMHB entered this week’s action at 19-1 overall and 11-0 in conference. The Crusaders were ranked No. 6 in the this week’s D3hoops.com Top 25.
UMHB is led this season by returning juniors Kendall Rollins, Alicia Blackwell and Hannah Holt who each average double figures in points this season.
“When you have three diverse scorers that makes you hard to guard. All three of them are diverse in their ability offensively. Kendall (Rollins) is more of that finesse and smooth type player. Alicia (Blackwell) is kind of that athletic, quick type guard and then you have Hannah Holt who is like a bull in a china shop,”
The Cru also added a key piece in guard Madison McCoy who transferred to UMHB from East Texas Baptist.
“You get a transfer (Madison McCoy) who comes in who was MVP of the conference tournament (last season at East Texas Baptist) and she’s replacing an individual, Meghan Turner, who is the all-time leader in assists here and for her (McCoy) to come in and still give us that two-to-one (assist to turnover ratio) is huge," Morefield said.
The Crusaders lone loss this season was a 73-55 setback at home to No. 2 Thomas More. UMHB had a rough first quarter in that game and fell behind 32-9 before outscoring the Saints 46-41 over the final three quarters.
Thomas More was a national semifinalist last season and were DIII national champions in 2016. Morefield thought the game against the Saints was a great lesson for the Cru.
“Thomas More is a seasoned team that has had success for a long time. You look at us having three years of success compared to what the program has had in the past so I think there was a lot of being in awe in the first quarter,” said Morefield.
“We got better from that (loss) because Thomas More did a great job of moving the ball and being in sync and now we know that’s what it takes to compete at that level,” said Morefield.
Morefield is in his fourth season at UMHB and trying to build the Cru into a national championship contender.
“To be in the discussion for national championships you have to recruit at a level higher. We’ve got to go get (NCAA) D2 and low (NCAA) D1 players,” Morefield said.
UMHB also provides a wonderful atmosphere for students and coaches.
“We have a beautiful campus. We have great resources. We have an administration that really takes care of us and gives us all the resources that we need,” Morefield said.
Along with recruiting and atmosphere, Morefield has been establishing a winning culture.
“We had to establish a culture of excellence and not just on the floor but in the classroom,” Morefield said.
“You have to have a level of respect," Morefiels said. "Our culture is that of a family. We’re all in this together and you’re going have to respect each other. When we go to team meals on the road, there are no cell phones. You have to leave your cell phone on the bus."
UMHB is Morefield’s first head coaching job and that meant a transition from men’s basketball to women’s basketball. He did not have to look far to find advice on building a successful women’s basketball team.
Morefield’s father-in-law is Baylor women’s basketball associate head coach Bill Brock. Brock has spent the last 16 seasons with the Lady Bears and was an integral part of two national championship teams.
Prior to joining Baylor, Brock built Grayson county (Texas) College into a premier junior college during his 13 seasons as head coach. Brock built an incredible 371-50 record with the Lady Vikings.
Brock has been a valuable resource for Morefield.
“It’s (Brock) a great resource and I’ve been fortunate to have a family member where you can call up and he’s won two national championships and he’s had extreme success when he was at Grayson Community College," Morefield said. "He knows what it’s like to win on a small college level."
Morefield was well known as a top recruiter during his eight seasons as an assistant coach for Baylor men’s basketball team. He was twice named as a top 25 recruiter by Rivals.com.
However, recruiting at the NCAA DIII level is different than any other level. NCAA DIII schools are unable to award athletic scholarships. So Morefield used his contacts to learn how to recruit at a high level with no athletic scholarships.
“I looked at the Ivy League," Morefield said. "They’re doing the same thing we’re doing. There is no athletic scholarship. We researched and saw how these (Ivy League) programs are doing it because they’re having success and competing on a national level. We reached out and talked to some of the coaches in the Ivy League."
While Morefield has built UMHB into a contender this season, he is trying to keep his team from becoming satisfied with their results.
“We don’t want to be mediocre. We want to win,” Morefield said.
“Our focus is we don’t want complacency," Morefield said. "That’s the one thing that we’ve really been focusing on and making sure that we play to our standards."
The standard at UMHB has certainly risen under the direction of Morefield.
“The bottom line is our standard here is to win championships and this is all a process to get to that point,” Morefield said.
Cory Hogue is Dave Campbell's Texas Basketball small college correspondent follow him on Twitter at @HoagieSports and be sure to visit his website (linked below) for more coverage of Division II and Division III collegiate athletics.