Women's Basketball turns friendship into teamwork
Nov. 26, 2010
Ashleigh Fontenette’s off-court and on-court personas are usually at odds.
In a basketball uniform, Fontenette is fierce and single-mindedly competitive, but otherwise, she’s kind, caring and, as freshman Chassidy Fussell is learning, also quite affectionate.
“AT is always trying to hug somebody,” Fussell says. “You can feel the bond.”
The Longhorns travel to No. 3 Stanford for their first road contest of the season on Sunday, and as the team’s junior point guard, Fontenette is largely responsible for setting the tone in the locker room, on the practice court and during games.
But Fontenette is part of a leadership-by-committee approach. She, along with fellow juniors Yvonne Anderson and Ashley Gayle, and lone senior Kathleen Nash have worked together to establish this warm, welcoming vibe.
“This summer, we knew we had a lot of freshmen coming in, and they were going to be far from home,” Fontenette explains. “Our main thing was to bring them in and show them that we are a family.”
The Longhorns took the buddy system approach seriously. They traveled in groups to the movies, to the mall, to class. Evening pick-up games around the UT campus provided a setting where that friendship turned into a team.
“The outside life carried over to the court, and that keeps us pretty tight,” Fussell says.
UT brings its speedy, guard-heavy lineup to Maples Pavilion, famous for its bouncy surface. The Longhorns have only met Stanford once on its home court in an 87-64 loss on Jan. 5, 1993. However, Maples Pavilion has been good to the Longhorns. In the 2003 NCAA Championship, UT advanced to the Final Four after downing No. 17 Minnesota (73-60) and No. 3 LSU (78-60) at Stanford.
Fussell claims to be a women’s college basketball fan, but doesn’t remember watching the 2003 tournament. When reminded of the Longhorns’ trip to the Final Four, which routed through Maples Pavilion, Fussell remarked, “Maybe we can make more history this time.”
If so, it will be with a total-team approach. For example, Fussell sees the season-long absence of post Cokie Reed as a burden that doesn’t just fall in the paint.
“Guards have to pull five, six, seven rebounds a game. That’s responsibility we all share,” she says.
And the Longhorns now understand what it means to play all-for-one. Fontenette in particular knows that five is much better than one.
“Just knowing that your teammates have your back allows you to play free,” Fontenette says. “If put myself out there on defense, AG is behind me. I know she’ll pick me up. We started developing this in our pick-up games, and once we got to practice, it was second nature.”