While still driving forward, Megan Herbert can’t help but look back.
She’ll end her career as one of the most decorated and honored women’s basketball players in University of Central Arkansas history. She was part of a seedling group that pulled Sugar Bear basketball out of a deep rut in NCAA Divison to championship-contending status in the Southland Conference. Herbert, a 5-foot-11 post who plays taller, will close her career with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, a feat fewer than 10 players in NCAA Division I women’s history have done. She has 82 double-doubles.
Now, memories and highlights and disappointments go by like a rapid-fire slideshow.
“It’s gone by so fast, just so fast — seems like just yesterday I was a freshman,” said Herbert, now a graduate student, as her final game in the Farris Center nears.
There was her freshman season when the young Sugar Bears first gave indication of their growth with a victory over Tulsa, one of the first major college victories in Division I.
There was the 21-win season her sophomore year, the regular-season conference championship her junior year.
And one of her fondest memories the Sugar Bears’ roller-coaster ride during her senior season occurred last week when the team was trapped in traffic for about two hours on a bridge leading into Lake Charles, La. Shortly afterwards, UCA stunned its archrival and often-nemesis McNeese State on Senior Day for the Baggett twins, rivals who grew, like Herbert, into legend status at their school.
“Team-bonding experience,” she said about the Sugar Bears’ antics in bumper-to-bumper traffic (including their impromptu version of the Harlem Shake). “It really loosened us up. It was really kind of like our season — crazy, chaotic. It got us loose and ready to play. It was a lot of fun.”
She also remembers the disappointments, most notably losing to McNeese State in the SLC title game two years ago and being upset by Nicholls State in the first round last year.
Herbert will play her final game at the Farris Center on Saturday with fellow seniors she has grown up with at UCA — Britney Gowans, Desiree’ Rogers and Chantel Moss. Junior college transfer Tracy Parsons will also be honored on Senior Day.
Those seniors have been part of a group that has won 80 games the past four years and created the third-longest home winning streak in the country (22 games). They’ve played for an SLC tourney championship, won an SLC regular-season championship and made two straight postseason appearances, the latest in last year’s WNIT, losing to eventual champion Oklahoma State.
“We came here to put UCA on the map in Division I,” Herbert said. “I think we did that. It’s been a dream.”
But before Herbert and the players who have passed through the UCA program the past two years could realize a dream, they had to see the vision.
One of the greatest players in UCA basketball history, male or female, knew very little about the Sugar Bears when she was a senior at Shiloh Christian High School and met new Sugar Bear coach Matt Daniel.
“When coach Daniel called when I was going into my senior year, I didn’t know who UCA was,” Herbert said. “But as soon as I got to campus, I knew this is where I needed to be. I liked his ideas of what he wanted to do to turn the program around. He told us that we were going to win games and build a program. I liked that competitiveness and what we had to work for every day.”
Herbert joined former players Destinee Rogers (now a graduate assistant coach), Desiree’ Rogers, Nakeia Guiden, Micah Rice (who will take a medical hardship this year) and Westin Taylor to form a solid in-state foundation to the rebuilding effort.
“What we accomplished I think we can treasure the rest of our lives,” Herbert said. “We had an idea of each other when we came here, then we grew up together. The fact that so many of us were from Arkansas definitely helped. It was a source of pride to make people take notice of UCA.”
But it was not all glory, particularly after Daniel left for Marshall during the summer and the Sugar Bears had to make a quick transition to a new style by a new coach, Sandra Rushing. It resulted in an up-and-down season in which UCA lost six straight games at one point and plunged to a lower seed for the conference tournament.
“None of us had ever lost six straight before,” she said. “Losing six straight when you’re used to winning and when you come here to win is really tough. Transition is tough anyway, particularly when you have two different styles of play and you switch to a system that is new to you your senior year ...
“But it has been a wild season for everybody in the conference. Nobody has dominated. Most teams have split (home-and-home series). Everybody is capable of beating everybody else. It could be a crazy tournament.”
Now, Herbert and her fellow seniors face uncertainty in the final chapter of their college careers. They close the regular season against Oral Roberts, then head to the SLC tourney that begins Wednesday in Katy, Texas. They will have to win four straight games to win the title and move into the postseason.
“We are just guaranteed two more games,” she said. “It’s a tough situation not knowing when your last practice or your last shootaround is going to be. What you have to remember is whenever you step on the floor, your can’t take anything for granted.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 501-505-1235. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us sports news at email@example.com)