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NOTEBOOK:Lions a nice fit in Jackson

NAIA TOURNAMENT

BASKETBALL: Community embraces Lions and their coach, whom some have jokingly called Mayor of Jackson.

March 16, 2007|By BARRY FAULKNER

JACKSON, Tenn. — With four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup, the top-seeded Vanguard University women's basketball team (29-0) has experience on its side as it attempts to win the program's first national championship at the NAIA Tournament in Oman Arena.

Senior Kelly Schmidt, in fact, said having ended every season on the 5,600-seat facility's parquet floor, has made it a special place for her and her teammates.

"I feel very comfortable here," Schmidt said after the Lions' 74-64 first-round win over Harris-Stowe of St. Louis, Mo. "I noticed last year it was different for the girls who had been here before, and this year is a continuation of that. Going out there, it's just a game and once you get on the court, like any other game, you just have to go out and do it. Just like at The Pit back home."

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Today's second-round matchup, at 8:45 a.m. against Oklahoma City (27-7), will be the 12th game Schmidt, as well as fellow senior starters Rachel Besse and Lacey Burns, have played at Oman, which has hosted the NAIA Tournament since 1990 and recently signed a two-year agreement to host the tournament through the 2008-09 season.

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

The people of Jackson go out of their way to embrace teams competing in the tournament, but Vanguard is one team many locals especially look forward to seeing every year.

Lions Coach Russ Davis, who has taken teams here nine times, including the last six seasons, knows so many people in the city, Vanguard assistant coach John Barney jokingly calls him the Mayor of Jackson.

Vanguard also visits Jackson every other year to play in the December Rotary Classic.

"It's funny," Schmidt said. "[Davis] knows a lot of people [in Jackson] and he's definitely in his element. He loves talking basketball and everybody back here loves talking basketball, too. There's just a lot of nice people back here and he gets along with everyone. It's really as fun for him to come back here as it is for us."

In the Lions' opening-round victory, the only banner displayed in the arena was a 10-foot white banner stating: West Tennessee Healthcare welcomes Vanguard University Lady Lions. On the banner was Vanguard's lion's head logo, as well as the NAIA logo.

A local high school also provided cheerleaders for the Lions, whose games are followed, via radio and/or the internet, all season long by some loyal local Vanguard fans.

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