April 2, 2014
BEAUMONT - It's been a constant sight at McDonald Gym this spring. In between the shuffling back-and-forth of track and tennis athletes meeting with coaches and athletic trainers, one will likely find a new face in Alan Edwards staring intently at practice film. Sometimes alone, sometimes with assistant Kacie Ehinger, but usually with a player or two from his Lamar volleyball team.
"I have kids in my office every single afternoon," Edwards says. "It's my job to make us better, and that's all I can do. I can't make Central Arkansas worse. We show them where they were four weeks ago, where they are now, and then what our expectation will be for where they need to go. Over the course of 15 years of doing this, you start to see the kids that want to work and the kids that don't. So far, I've seen those kids here. Whether they actually like it or not, they are starting to embrace this process. We're seeing improvement, and it's been massive from where it was two months ago."
Improvement is an oft-repeated theme with the Lady Cardinals as the team is looking to return to the upper echelon of the Southland Conference after missing the Southland Tournament the past two seasons. The program boasts of a proud history dating back to the days of the late Katrinka Jo Crawford, who is the namesake of the Southland's annual coach of the year award.
Rebuilding is something that Edwards feels is very possible at Lamar, especially considering the change that the program underwent in the mid-2000s as the Lady Cards took home the 2007 Southland regular season crown before making their long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament in 2008.
"I think that the things that we need in order to be a successful program are already in place," Edwards said. "We have an outstanding facility, good support from our administration and a lot of things that we can recruit to on campus. I like the kids we have in the gym too."
"This team, athletically, is a better than a 10th
place team," Edwards added. "They were young last year, and they're approaching the learning process well on a day-to-day basis. We have some issues here-and-there, but that's not a lack of willing to work, it's a lack of understanding how the process works."
The process is a recurring theme when Edwards talks about his team these days, and with a history of building efforts at both Iona and Mercer under his belt, it's something in which he holds a lot of faith.
"It's a grind," Edwards revealed. "You have to understand what the day-to-day expectation in this program will be. We can't allow certain things to affect our good days and our bad days. We have to be good regardless, and that standard here is not going to change. Trying to make a culture change is always the most challenging, and so far, we have a core group that understands what we're trying to do here. If we want a different result this season, we need to be doing something different in order to get that result."
"We measure where kids are in the gym every day," Edwards explained. "That's just my background as someone who grew up with two teachers and went to school as a teacher. If I want you to do something to be successful, I have to show that I value it by measuring it. If you're getting measured on something every day in the gym, you will start to place value in it. We're going to have days where we're near our top end, but then we'll hit a new top end. At that point, the bar raises and there's no going back. There is no such thing as `good enough' because it's a four-year process of improvement for an athlete."
The first test of the spring came near the end of last month as the team made the trek to Nacogdoches to take on a trio of conference opponents in three-set matches. The Lady Cards fell 2-1 to both Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State and dropped a 2-0 match to Sam Houston State.
"We did some good things up at SFA, but we have a ton of work left to do," Edwards explained. "We played well in the second set vs. SFA. It wasn't until late in the day that we started to see consistent execution. We blocked well, and we're miles ahead there from where I thought we'd be there. We managed to control the second set vs. Northwestern State, and we did that because we passed well, sided-out well, served well and blocked well. It was a very promising day."
The Lady Cards will return to action next weekend with Louisiana's spring tournament in Lafayette.