UT's Senior Super Six
Of the six seniors taking to the court for their final seasons in the Burnt Orange and White, each student-athlete has enjoyed a similar story of basketball success. Yet, each has traversed a unique road that led to Austin.
Head Coach Jody Conradt's “super six” (senior guards Kala Bowers and Jamie Carey along with senior forwards Jody Bell, Annissa Hastings, Heather Schreiber and Mercedes Williams) represent two different countries, three different states, one transfer, a fifth-year senior and a sixth-year senior! One hails from Colorado, one from Oklahoma, another from Canada while the other three call the Lone Star State their native state. What makes this senior group unique is a commonality shared despite diverse backgrounds - a commonality of intense desire to achieve and win and leave the program at a higher level than when they entered UT. These six have been instrumental in helping the Longhorns claim Big 12 Conference titles and high national acclaim with a NCAA Final Four finish in 2003, sandwiched around NCAA Sweet 16 appearances in 2002 and 2004.
A look back … Texas women's senior class:
In June 1999 in Thornton, Colo., Horizon High School's Jamie Carey delivered the valedictory address to her graduating class, officially finalizing a school-girl career storied enough to see her named Gatorade's National Player of the Year and her jersey retired in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. A few months later, Carey was running the point basketball powerhouse Stanford University.
Meanwhile, the future of Texas Longhorns basketball for Coach Jody Conradt - Canadian Jody Bell along with Oklahoman Kala Bowers and Texans Heather Schreiber and Mercedes Williams - were juggling preliminary SAT tests and driver's education, preparing for their junior years of high school.
At the time, Bowers had captured the Oklahoma state title in both the long jump and the high jump, while Schreiber claimed the Texas state high jump after leading Windthorst HS to the state volleyball final. Williams was starring in both track and field and basketball, and Bell was competing in the Canadian Junior National Team program in the faraway province of Alberta, Canada.
Only San Antonio's Annissa Hastings had thoughts of college basketball directly on her mind. Now, six years later, these six women's players have come together to share a common bond and the same lofty goals, although each taking a circuitous path to Austin.
“This senior class has great experience and leadership,” states Carey. “We all come from different places, but that can only help us. Experience does go a long way if you know how to use it. It's our job, as seniors, to keep the entire team together.”
To which Bell agreed. “Everybody does bring something unique and positive to the team,” she said. “We have been through a lot together - positive and negative - that has made us such a strong group.”
It was the fall of 2000 when the first of what is now Texas' six-woman senior class entered her freshman season at the Forty Acres. The 6-foot, 2-inch Hastings burst onto the college scene, making an immediate impact on the UT frontcourt and defense. She averaged 7.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game through 13 contests before being sidelined for the remainder of her freshman campaign with a torn lateral meniscus.
Upon recovery, Hastings continued to steadily improve. Contributing in all 32 games and starting the last eight during her sophomore season, Hastings and the Longhorns advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first in 12 years. Hastings helped the Horns make that national statement.
During the summer of 2002, new UT transfer Carey, who had been forced to retire from college basketball in November of 2000 due to post-concussion symptoms, received new medical information, underwent extensive testing and was cleared by the NCAA take to the court once again. Carey, who earned Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year honors at Stanford, wasted little time returning to old form.
Now, with one season under their belt, the talented sophomores - comprising Jody Bell, Kala Bowers, Heather Schreiber and Mercedes Williams - with the addition of Carey, began to take form. Bowers and Williams provided sparks off the bench as Schreiber posted double-digit point totals in each of 30 games and saw her list of individual honors and recognition begin to stock pile. She earned All-Big 12 First Team recognition, while Carey racked up Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
Carey and her new classmates on the court seized Texas basketball by its 'Horns,' teaming to post a 15-1 Big 12 regular season record to win the league title (its first) prior to winning the Big 12 Tournament Championship (another first) - en route to earning a trip to the NCAA Final Four - a third such NCAA finish for Jody Conradt's Longhorns.
Schreiber, a clutch performer in UT's historic Final Four run, posted a team-high 19.2 points per game in the NCAA Tournament and earned NCAA West Regionals MVP honors, while Carey grabbed a spot on the West Region All-Tournament Team.
“Our senior class brings a winning attitude,” said Schreiber. “Since I have been here, we've been to the NCAA tournament and won the Big 12 twice so we have high expectations for our team, year in and year out.”
But the Longhorns would be snake-bitten in the fall of 2003, as Hastings, who had proven to be a top rebounder and dynamic defender off the bench during the Longhorns' NCAA runs, endured a pre-season Achilles tear that sidelined her for the rest of the season. Once again, an injury forced her back to the bench, reminiscent of her freshman year, but left Hastings with a burning sensation to return to the court once again.
In yet another winning campaign during 2003-04, Hastings watched from the bench as Texas reached the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll in February, clinched another Big 12 regular season title (co-champs), and was Big 12 tourney runner-up. Yet, the Longhorns' journey jolted to a premature ending when Final Four dreams were dashed by LSU in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
“It was frustrating to lose to LSU last year,” said Williams. “But the seniors have been to the Final Four and we know how hard it was to get there. So we can always draw upon that experience to help lead this team.”
Now, experienced and disappointed with last year's NCAA run, this group of seniors from diverse backgrounds will try to meet their high self-imposed expectations; in the process, they will call upon their past journeys to guide them.
“I certainly haven't taken the most direct route [to Austin],” Carey concluded. “There was a small transition phase, but, now I consider Texas home. I couldn't be in a better place for basketball and academics. I love it here and love my teammates. We have built something really special and are talking championships this season. It is up to the seniors to lead us to that success."
To which her teammate Bowers agreed. “Each one of us brings something unique to the team because we are all from different places and different backgrounds, but we are only better for it,” she said. “There is great chemistry between not only the seniors who have been together for four years, but between everyone on the team. We have things to prove this year.”
“We've been to the Final Four, but didn't win a national championship so that is our ultimate goal,” stated Hastings. “Adversity makes everyone stronger, and the adversity that each one of us has experienced individually will help make our team stronger overall.”
Each of these six seniors, taking a different path to Austin, has played a huge role in helping shape Texas basketball success over the past four-plus years. They have taken separate trails to arrive at the same junction - success and excellence - using their common love of basketball as their compass.
A GLANCE AT THE SENIOR SUCCESS TO DATE