BROOKE IT: Stoehr brings another title to Techsters

STOEHR-Y BOOK FINISH: Coach Brooke Stoehr has led Louisiana Tech from an 0-4 start in Conference USA to a West Division title.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Shreveport-Bossier Journal

They didn’t take the easiest path to their planned destination — think about scoring a successful moonSBJ spotlight shot from Earth by way of Mercury — but Louisiana Tech’s Lady Techsters are basketball champions of Conference USA’s West Division anyway.

Start to finish, there were some misfires:

An 0-4 hiccup to begin conference play;

A loss to 0-and-5-in-conference Rice in January;

A fourth-quarter collapse and mid-February loss at last-place UTSA after winning by 17 at UTEP two nights before.

But it’s not where you start or even how you get there — as long as you get there first. Tech did.

The regular season ended with Lady Techsters cutting down nets in Thomas Assembly Center after a convincing, division-clinching 82-56 victory over UAB Saturday afternoon, the program’s first championship since 2011.

“Winning a championship as a player is special because its validation of the work you put in with your teammates to achieve something together,” said head coach Brooke Stoehr, who made it to four NCAA Tournaments, two Elite Eights, and one Final Four as a Lady Techster student-athlete between 1998-2002. “You have a direct impact on the results because you are on the court competing. I cherish those memories with some amazing teammates.”

Saturday’s championship was a new taste to cherish for Stoehr, in her sixth year as coach at her alma mater.

“I have a whole different appreciation and feeling now that I’ve experienced it as a coach,” she said. “There is nothing like watching a team celebrate a championship together, especially for the first time …

“I’ve found great joy in watching them celebrate each other throughout the season,” she said. “Watching them celebrate after the game on the court with each other and their families (Saturday) is something I will never forget.”

The Lady Techsters began practice in the fall with nine new faces, five true freshmen, and a season-ending injury to projected starting guard and Division I transfer Gabbie Green — and didn’t win a C-USA game until January 17.

“It would have been a little less stressful had we gotten off to a better start,” Stoehr said, “but I do believe we needed to figure some things out about how this group needed to play in order to be successful. They never wavered and always believed in what we were doing.”

Doing what was asked of them and “competing hard for each other,” Stoehr said, was the reason Tech was able to win 8-of-10 and four straight — including a dramatic got-things-going 90-80 double-overtime win over Rice — to close out and smooth out the bumpy regular season.

Along the way since that long-ago first practice in October, her team “figured out how to win close games and found their identity as a group,” Stoehr said. “They became a tough-minded defensive team, figured out the types of shots we need to take and how to get balanced contributions on both ends of the floor.

“They’ve just had a sheer determination to accomplish something special,” she said. “They’ve played some really good basketball over the past three weeks at the most important time of the year.”

With the championship, the Lady Techsters, 19-10 and 11-7, earned a double-bye in the 2022 Heritage Landscape Supply Group C-USA Women’s Basketball Championship that begins today. At 1:30 Thursday in the quarterfinals, Tech will play the winner of Wednesday afternoon’s WKU (4th in the East) – UAB (5th in the West) game.

Although her team is young, Stoehr is a mid-March Old Timer. Besides four times as a player, she’s experienced the Big Dance as a head coach twice: she led underdog teams at Northwestern State to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2015. With three more postseason tournament bids to her credit (NSU in the 2016 Women’s Basketball Invitational, Tech in the 2017 and 2018 WNITs), Stoehr is plenty familiar with all-or-nothing March basketball.

A victory Thursday would be her 100th as Tech’s coach. More importantly, it would push the Lady Techsters one step closer to the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech Athletic Communications