Release Date: 11/16/1998
Clarksville, Ark. --- As University of the Ozarks women's basketball coach Jack Jones closes in on the 300 career-win plateau, he is quick to spread the credit around for his success.
"It's definitely a tribute to the student-athletes I've had the privilege to coach," said Jones, who has a career record of 293-209 as he enters his 20th season at the school. "I never thought I'd last 20 years and have a chance at 300 victories, but when you've got great athletes and you enjoy what you're doing, success is going to come. I just hope I can continue to coach and have success and have a chance to go after 400 (wins)."
Jones took over U of O women's program before the 1979-80 season, just one year after earning his degree at the college. And with a young and unproven squad this year, he may have to rely heavily on the coaching experience of 20 years and more than 500 games to lead this year's Lady Eagles team to success.
"This may be one of the most inexperienced teams I've had here," Jones said. "Even our seniors have very little real playing time. We're a basketball team with limited talent as well. For this team to do well, we've got to execute well and play well every night."
The Lady Eagles return two starters from last year's 12-13 season --- senior guard Amanda Dean of Alma, who averaged 3.5 points last year, and sophomore forward Carla Rhodes of Hackett, one of the top freshmen in the league last year with averages of seven points and 3.8 rebounds a game. Junior guard Tracy Duncan of Dardanelle and senior center Aimee Rogers of Alma also saw significant playing time last year and are expected to take on larger roles this year. The Lady Eagles received some bad news earlier this week when redshirt freshman Holly Shepherd, a projected starter at forward, injured her knee in practice. Shepherd could miss the entire season.
With Shepherd's injury and lack of returning experience, Jones will rely on a large freshman class this season, including guards Tara Muck of Fort Smith, Shawana Sullins of Valley Springs and Maliesa Nelson of Mountainburg and forwards Christie Shuffield of Dover, Lauren O'Pry of El Dorado and Sarah Williams of Clarksville.
"This year's team will really depend on how quickly our freshmen adjust to college basketball," Jones said. "I've been pleased with how some of them have already seemed to adjust. I expect Christie (Shuffield) will get a lot of playing time in the post and Tara (Muck) and Maliesa (Nelson) have done some good things at the guard spots. Those three should see a lot of time early on."
The Lady Eagles received some good news during the preseason when Erin (Langham) Tyler decided to return after sitting out the entire 1997-98 season. Tyler, a 5-9 senior forward, was an All-American Southwest Conference performer two years ago when she averaged 13.4 points and sank 56 three-pointers for Ozarks.
"Erin gives us a scoring punch we desperately need," Jones said. "She's one of the best long-range shooters around and her shooting should open up the inside for us."
The Lady Eagles open the 1998-99 season this weekend in the Hendrix College Tip-Off Classic. Their first home game is Nov. 23 against Arkansas Baptist, and the schedule includes a New Year's Eve afternoon showdown against long-time rival Arkansas Tech in Russellville. It will be the first meeting of the two former Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference schools since the league split up four years ago.
"It just worked out this year that we both needed a game and it was a chance to renew a great rivalry," Jones said. "Now that we are non-scholarship Division III and they are scholarship Division II, I don't know if we'll continue to play them, but I know the game has already drawn a lot of interest from our fans. It's been a great series down through the years."