All of the history and tradition — the two national titles, the one national runner-up finish, the seven trips to the national semifinals or better, the 19 regular season conference titles, the 802 wins — is the stuff of legend.
But there is at least one thing that the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns basketball program has never done: start a season with 15 consecutive wins.
That could change on Thursday night.
The nationally 13th-ranked Golden Suns (14-0 overall, 1-0 Gulf South Conference) will try to complete their best start to a season ever when they host the Henderson State Lady Reddies (9-7, 0-1) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Tickets will be available at Tucker Coliseum beginning at 4:30 p.m. Admission will be free with a valid Tech identification card.
It was back in 1979-80 when All-American Sherry Raney led the Golden Suns to a program-best 14-0 start.
That run came to an end with a 59-56 loss at Central Arkansas on Jan. 18, 1980, but Tech came back to win its next 15 games. The Suns earned a berth in the 1980 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) National Tournament and finished 29-2.
It was just the third season of Golden Suns intercollegiate basketball. We’ve now reached season No. 33 for Tech’s women, and that 14-0 start has never been improved upon.
The 2009-10 Golden Suns are in position to change that on Thursday for many reasons. One reason is because like the 1979-80 squad, these Golden Suns are blessed with the talents of an extraordinary player.
When it was announced on June 3, 2009, that Jenny Vining would transfer from the University of Oklahoma to Arkansas Tech, it was obvious that she would make an impact on the Golden Suns’ program.
After all, one recruiting service listed her as the 33rd best high school player in the entire country during her senior season at Marshall High School and she was a key reserve on the Sooners’ NCAA Division I Final Four team in 2008-09.
But Vining has exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic Golden Suns’ fans. Her 21 points per game lead the GSC and rank sixth in all of NCAA Division II. She leads the nation in 3-point field goals made (4.3 per game).
Vining is one of 14 new players on the Arkansas Tech roster this season.
Other newcomers such as junior guard Laura Beth Anderson (among the top 10 in the GSC in steals, assists and field goal percentage), sophomore forward Natalia Santos (among the top eight in the GSC in scoring and rebounding) and freshman forward Jessica Weatherford (fourth in the nation in free throw percentage) have also been at the forefront of the Golden Suns’ 14-0 start.
But perhaps the biggest factor that has put Arkansas Tech in position to make history on Thursday night is its depth. Ten Golden Suns average 10 minutes or more of playing time per game. Only Vining averages more than 22 minutes per contest.
Standing between Arkansas Tech and a 15th straight win is Henderson State. The Lady Reddies lost their league opener in heartbreaking fashion when Harding sank two free throws with one second remaining to defeat HSU 76-75 in Searcy on Saturday.
Thursday’s Tech-Henderson State game promises a fast pace. The Golden Suns lead the GSC in scoring at 85.9 points per game; the Lady Reddies are second in the conference with a 75.9 points per game average.
Another area in which both teams excel is forcing turnovers. Arkansas Tech has collected 390 turnovers from its foes this year, most in the GSC. Henderson State is second in the league in that category with 340 turnovers forced.
In other words, the team that does a better job of protecting the basketball is likely to be the one that walks out of Tucker Coliseum happy on Thursday night.
Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and www.athletics.atu.edu will have live play-by-play coverage of Thursday’s game.