Gail Goestenkors

Restless and decorated, Karen Aston is all business.

After five seasons under the direction of Gail Goestenkors, the Texas women’s basketball team will take flight under a new leader. Although Aston is a fresh face to most, this season marks her long-awaited return to Texas.

“I’m just really excited and honored,” Aston said. “Because I worked here in the past, I just want so badly to help Texas get back to the forefront of women’s basketball.”         

Jody Conradt and Texas molded her, but Aston has done the rest, compiling an impressive resume as the head coach of North Texas and Charlotte, where she made four straight postseason appearances. After leading these programs, Aston hopes to impart her style for success in Austin.

“The tradition and excellence that’s expected here comes with a lot of responsibility which I’m excited for,” Aston said. “As far as style, I really love getting up and down the floor and pressure man-to-man defense, just getting out in transition.”

Change is tough, as any team under the reigns of a new chief will tell you. However, Aston is already pleased with her team’s progress.

“You have to make adjustments according to what style of players you have, and I think everybody has done a good job with that,” Aston said. “My responsibility is just to help them transition quickly and I think it’ll work.”

If her track record is any indication, the team should soar when completely acclimated to her style of play. With a disappointing ending to last season, Aston is anxious to rewrite the history books of the program.

“Short term, the goal is to obviously get out of the first round of the NCAA tournament and then go from there,” Aston said. “Long term is to get Texas back to the Final Four, and I think it’s time for us to step up to the plate and start performing better.”

Players’ expectations are also high.

“I think we’re not ready this year because some of the girls are still really young,” junior guard Chassidy Fussell said. “But I think soon, with Coach Aston we’ll have a good shot at the title.”

Known as a relentless recruiter, Aston takes special pride in acquiring quality talent. In her mind, Texas is the prime place for the picking.

“I take a lot of pride in it, and I ask a lot from my players so the better relationship I have with those players in recruiting helps in understanding when we get on the floor,” Aston said. “And the fun thing about it is that Texas basketball is the best in the country.”

Aston brings an abundance of passion as a coach, but as a former collegiate player she knows the ins and outs from both sides.

“As a player you can control the game more,” Aston said. “It’s very rewarding as a coach, but it’s harder to control.”

Playing for a coach who has lived the game in two different pairs of shoes is a valuable asset for a player’s development, and that has made the Longhorns’ expectations high.

“I was really excited [when she got hired],” Fussell said. “Expectations are as high as they’ve ever been, and we expect to be one of the top teams in the Big 12.”

Because she is held in such high regard in the basketball world, the real Karen Aston can sometimes be lost in translation. There’s more to her than just basketball, however.

“I don’t think many people know that I like the opera and I like going to the opera,” Aston said. “And I really just love afternoons at home with my dog.”

She’s won before, and judging by the early reviews, she’ll win again. A decorated leader and relentless recruiter, Karen Aston seems poised to accomplish great things both on and off the court in her time in Austin.

Printed on Thursday, November 8, 2012 as: Aston brings style, savvy to squad

Change came to the Forty Acres in April after director of women’s athletics Chris Plonsky announced Karen Aston would succeed Gail Goestenkors as Texas women’s basketball head coach. Now the Longhorns’ top incoming freshman, 6-foot-7 forward/center Imani Stafford, will come to campus after a summer representing her country.

Goestenkors originally recruited Stafford, as well as fellow blue-chipper Empress Davenport, for Texas, but after her resignation there were some questions as to whether the talented pair would remain true to their verbal commitments. Aston was able to secure the pair, also bringing in Lithuanian forward Gintare Mazionyte from Weatherford College and guard Ashley Roberts from South Plains College. Mazionyte adds even more depth at the post position and brings international experience to a team in need of some help to return to an elite level of play.

Stafford is one of 12 players recently named to the USA Basketball Women’s Under-18 National Team. Already ranked one of ESPN’s top recruits and 3rd best post player in the 2012 class, Stafford is excited at how the honor can improve her game.

“Any time you step on that court wearing anything USA is an honor,” Stafford said. “The fact I made the final team just makes it even better. I just want to go out, play hard and get ready for college. Hopefully we’ll bring back the gold.”

Twenty-five players attended the final five sessions in Colorado Springs, Colo., that would eventually be chomped down to a 12-player roster competing in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship to be held in Gurabo, Puerto Rico, Aug. 15-19.

“It really was a difficult decision with all of the talent on the court,” said Sue Donohoe, committee chair of the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee. “It’s not so much about taking the 12 best players; it’s taking the 12 players that can come together to make the best team. Throughout the trials, some players stepped forward, some players stepped back, and then you just have to evaluate the whole process and find the 12 that can bring back a gold for the U.S.”

The top three squads in Puerto Rico secure a berth in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship for Women in Lithuania. By summer’s end, the Texas Women’s Basketball program could not only get a talented post player to help with the size problem apparent over the last few years but also a player enhanced by the rigors of competing on a very high level of basketball with and against her peers.

However, Stafford does have previous competitive experience playing for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. She averaged 3.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the gold-medal-winning 2010 U17 National Team that posted a perfect 8-0 record at the inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship for Women in Toulouse and Rodez, France.

As Aston starts her task of retooling the program, it won’t hurt to be able to build around one of the most talented post players in her age bracket. It never hurts to have national team talent on your roster.  

Kim Mulkey, who has led Baylor to a 38-0 record this year, would be an ideal fit as the headcoach at Texas but would not likely accept the job.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Finding a new coach is never an easy task for an athletic department, but when the vacancy results from an abrupt resignation by one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in the past fifteen years, the task gets tougher.

“You always have a short list in your pocket no matter what happens,” said women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky. “Things can happen in sports that just don’t make sense and the timing is never good. People can be in accidents, you can lose people for bizarre reasons and you always have to be prepared.”

Thankfully for Plonsky, former head coach Gail Goestenkors’ decision to end her tenure as head coach of the Longhorns was brought to her attention before Goestenkors went public last week.

“Ironically the very first time [Goestenkors] talked to me was at a very critical point in our season where we just had an unbelievable game; I think it was against Oklahoma [Feb. 25],” she said.

A quick glance at the job listing on the UT Direct website for the newly open position reveals some basic, yet interesting, requirements for anyone that feels they are a suitable candidate to fill the opening. Casual applicants need not apply, however.

Obviously some sort of coaching experience at the D-I level is required, but there’s also an emphasis on player development and goals that include competing for both conference and national titles.

In a perfect world, coaches like Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, Texas A&M’s Gary Blair and even Oklahoma’s Sherri Coale would all be sitting near a phone anxiously awaiting a call from Plonsky. But with two national titles and countless Final Four appearances between the trio, a move to Texas could be considered lateral, if not a downgrade. Not to mention that the earliest any of their contracts expire is in 2015. Also, Coale receives a country club membership and 20 hours of private plane usage a year as part of her newly restricted contract — she’s not going anywhere.

No one’s exactly sure what Plonsky’s short list looks like as of now, but she may not have to look any further than the current coaching staff.

LaKale Malone has been with the Texas program since 2007 and has shown a knack for recruiting elite talent, signing five McDonald’s All-Americans in as many years. Malone may not have deep Texas ties that may be a huge boon to her recruiting prowess, but she comes from a basketball-rich background that could give her an edge over other candidates.

A four-year letter winner at Indiana from 1994-1999, Malone has also held assistant coaching positions at Wagner, Bradley and Nebraska, where she helped the Cornhuskers reach the NCAA tournament in 2007 and make three appearances in the WNIT tournament. Malone gained further postseason experience as a part of Goestenkors staff and is regarded very highly by her former staffers.

“LaKale is one of the rising young stars in the coaching profession,” Gostenkors said. “She understands the Big 12 Conference well, which is a huge asset to our program. She is very genuine and players and staff alike relate very well to her. LaKale has high energy, a great knowledge of the game, a tremendous work ethic and great passion — coaching traits which are essential for us in our quest to win championships.”

Ron Hughey hasn’t been in Austin quite as long as Malone, but he deserves to be considered as a potential replacement to Goestenkors. Like Malone, Hughey is known best for his recruiting and development of post players, a useful skill with 6-foot-7 prep standout Imani Stafford set to join the Longhorns this offseason. Hughey spent three years as an assistant at South Carolina State from 2004-2007 before accepting a job at South Carolina, where he remained for just a year. Hughey then landed at Central Florida in 2009, where Golden Knights won five straight games in the C-USA tournament to receive an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. He then served another one-year stint as an assistant at Rutgers, helping the Scarlet Knights reach the NCAA tournament in 2010.

“Ron has a great combination of passion and coaching experience that make him a terrific fit for Texas women’s basketball,” Goestenkors said. “His enthusiasm allows him to be an excellent recruiter, and his passion comes through in everything that he says and does. He is also a tremendous post coach and he has worked with and developed several great post players.”

Malone and Hughey have rather slim resumes compared to some of the top coaches in the game right now, but both possess qualities that make them more than suitable head coach candidates.

Plonsky’s decision will come soon enough, but there is certainly talent readily available. Whoever is chosen as the next coach will have to turn things around quickly, as expectations are higher than ever on the 40 Acres.

Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Who will be Goestenkors' successor?

Longhorns head women’s basketball coach Gail Goestenkors resigned Monday after five seasons at Texas, going 102-64 during her tenure.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

When Gail Goestenkors left Duke after 15 seasons as head coach, she brought with her a record of winning, something the Longhorn program had become quite fond of, as well as the guidance of all-time great Jody Conradt.

However, after five years and a 102-64 overall record, it became clear that Goestenkors wasn’t going to have an easy time restoring the dominance once associated with Texas women’s basketball.

Goestenkors held a press conference to announce her indefinite retirement from coaching Monday, bringing an end to her short-lived tenure in Austin. There had been some speculation recently as to whether or not Goestenkors would be fired, or even have the remainder of her contract bought out, but this move comes as a personal choice by Goestenkors.

“It’s been just an incredible journey here and really over my career,” Goestenkors said. “I’ve been a head coach now for 20 years and 27 total, so it’s been a wonderful, incredible journey.”

It was just a week ago that women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky stood by Goestenkors, saying she would indeed remain coach of the Longhorns for the remaining two years of her seven-year, $8.75 million contract.

“My heart’s telling me it’s time to take a break, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Goestenkors said. “I never came here for the money. People always talk about making a million dollars. I was offered a million dollars to stay at Duke.”

Even after Goestenkors made her intentions clear that she would resign at year’s end, Plonsky insisted that she stay on as head coach, giving Goestenkors the full support of the athletic department.

“She’s tried to talk me out of it,” Goestenkors said. “I feel like it’s time for me to step away and bring in some new leadership and help this program really to go where I know it can go.”

It was widely thought that Goestenkors would carry over her excellent recruiting and be able to compete with the nation’s top teams just as her teams did at Duke. Injuries are partly to blame for the overall lack of production, but teams like Baylor and Texas A&M have also built solid programs that have consistently challenged the Longhorns. Under Goestenkors, the Longhorns struggled to compete with top teams and suffered in March as a result.

“There is no easy game in women’s basketball,” Plonsky said. “We are competing in the most competitive league in the country. You have to have great players, you have to stay healthy and you have to play well. That is a lot to ask and it is true in every Big 12 sport. This place is not for the faint of heart.”

Interestingly enough, in her first five years with the Blue Devils (‘92-’97) she recorded a 95-53 (.642) record and took her team to the NCAA Tournament three times, exiting in the second round each of those three years — all this at a small private school where just making the tournament at that time was something to be proud of.

But if you stop there you miss some important information.

In her sixth season at Duke in 1996, Goestenkors won the ACC, led the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight appearance and took her team to the Sweet Sixteen each of the next nine years. Certainly an impressive resume and no doubt one of the reasons she was hired as Conradt’s heir to the throne at Texas.

Things may not have gone as Goestenkors had planned this year, but that comes with the territory. Next year was, and is shaping up to be an interesting year for women’s basketball. Texas will have a grand total of zero seniors, a bevy of sophomores who have yet to record any meaningful playing time, and a pair of elite recruits.

Goestenkors’ record at Texas after five full seasons will end, at least for now, at 102-64 (.614), with five NCAA Tournament appearances. It has been well documented that the Longhorns made it past the first round just once under Goestenkors, but it is worth noting that she has taken a team to the tournament every year since 1994.

“I’m not leaving Austin,” Goestnekors said. “But I’m leaving basketball and I think that’s an important distinction,”
Goestenkors’ last official day on the job will be Friday. After that the search for her replacement will begin.

It seemed as if Goestenkors was just getting started, but the toll of rebuilding finally proved to be too much for one of the game’s best coaches.

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Goestenkors ends underachieving five-year stint

Two days after losing her fifth straight NCAA Tournament game, Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors resigned on Monday.

Despite the timing of her resignation, Goestenkors said her departure was not a result of the team’s poor performance but that she was “tired” and did not feel it would be honest of her to continue as head coach at Texas.

“After a lot of soul searching, I just feel like I am tired,” Goestenkors said. “It’s not fair to this program, it’s not fair to the University and most importantly I don’t think it’s fair to the kids to have a coach that’s just tired.”

Goestenkors was just finishing up the fifth year of a seven-year contract paying her $1.25 million per season. If she had stayed with the program past April 1st of this year, she would have received an automatic one-year extension.
Goestenkors, 49, was 102-64 during her time at Texas and said that her decision would have been the same, regardless of if her team had posted a better record this season or made a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament.

“A different end to the season wouldn’t have changed anything,” Goestenkors said. “If we had won more this year, I think it actually would have been easier to leave, like, okay, I came, I saw, I conquered, I can move on. That didn’t happen. That’s probably the toughest thing is that there’s unfinished business.”

Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky gave Goestenkors a vote of confidence late in the season and stressed throughout the press conference that the coach was not forced out.

“I wanted her to stay,” Plonsky said. “I tried to get her to stay and I tried to re-recruit her. I wasn’t as successful this time around as I was five years ago.”

Goestenkors was clearly very comfortable with her decision. She was smiling throughout and even stuck around afterward to answer more questions.

“I feel very much at peace,” Goestenkors said. “I had been back and forth a little bit for a while, but there was a great sense of peace about the decision. I’m very much in tune with my heart, and that peacefulness told me that that was the right decision for me and for everybody.”

Goestenkors plans to leave the game of basketball entirely and will not be involved with the program in any capacity.

Plonsky and her staff are now forced to start another search for the right coach to turn the program back into the national title contender it once was. She did not mention any potential names on Monday but did say that the recruitment process will begin immediately.

“Things can happen in sports that just don’t make sense and the timing is never good,” Plonsky said. “We are prepared and there is a process that the University goes by. We will form a search committee and post a job. We will find a leader for our players.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Goestenkors resigns after five seasons

Senior forward Ashley Gayle, 22, ended her career with an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. Texas has one win in the tournament in five years under Gail Goestenkors.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Although her seat is hotter than ever after another early NCAA tournament exit, head coach Gail Goestenkors has to be somewhat relieved that her fifth, and perhaps most turbulent, season at Texas has reached a conclusion.

The Longhorns’ 68-55 loss to No. 8 seed West Virginia Mountaineers in the first round of the NCAA tournament was a fitting end to yet another disappointing season under Goestenkors. In its final game, Texas scored a season-low 18 first half points and converted on less than a third of its overall field goal attempts, not exactly the performance expected out of a team that started the season ranked in the top 25 with plenty of NCAA tournament experience among its key players to boot.

Senior guards Yvonne Anderson, Ashleigh Fontenette and post Ashley Gayle had reached the tournament in each of the past three seasons, only to be sent home in the first round every time.

Anderson and Fontenette, along with sophomore Chassidy Fussell were looked often for scoring production due to a rash of injuries that plagued the team all year.

Fussell led the team in scoring all season at over 16 points per game. She also became just the second player in UT history to shoot over 90 percent or better from the free-throw line.

Fontenette and Anderson both averaged a shade under 12 points per game and are both a part of the 1,000-point club.

Gayle finishes her career as the all-time leading blocker in Texas history with 370 blocks.

One positive to take away from the Longhorns’ less than spectacular season is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of talent that is stashed away deep down on Goestenkors’ bench. And there’s more coming in this year’s recruiting class as well.

Freshman guard standout Cassie Peoples was limited to just six games this year after failing to heal properly after leg surgery last summer. Peoples was ranked as the No. 7 guard in her class by HoopGurlz. Sophomore guard Shanice McKoy was also unable to play this season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in the summer. McCoy played in 14 games in her freshman season.

Sophomore guard Tiffany Moore also played in just four games before her season was ended by a serious allergy problem.

Couple in the intermittent injuries of two more sophomores: lightning-quick guard Chelsea Bass and dominant (when healthy) post Cokie Reed, and you can start to understand the magnitude of the injury situation that befell the team this year.

Goestenkors has also hauled in two pretty massive recruits in 6-foot-7 post Imani Stafford and top guard Empress Davenport that will join the team. Both bring even more depth to the Texas roster.

Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky has pledged to keep Goestenkors under her current seven-year contract that is set to expire in two seasons, but if Goestenkors doesn’t turn things around in a big way, she could be in jeopardy of losing what she has deemed her “dream job.”

Printed on Monday, March 19, 2012 as: Longhorns failed to reach their potential leaving Goestenkors on coaching hot seat

For the fourth time in as many years, Texas has failed to advance past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The ninth-seeded Longhorns lost their first game of the tournament, 68-55, at the hands of the eighth-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, VA on Saturday. The Longhorns have now lost five straight NCAA tournament games and have failed to advance past the opening round of the tournament since the 2007-2008 season.

Despite digging themselves a huge hole in the first half, Texas refused to go away. After trailing by thirteen at half, the Longhorns slowly worked themselves back into the game and used a 9-0 run midway through the second half to pull within three points of the Mountaineers.

“We started rebounding and we changed our defense up,” said Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “We were able to get some defensive rebounds which ignited our transition game and got us on a bit of a run.”

But it was too little, too late for Texas.

With just under four minutes to play, West Virginia’s Taylor Palmer hit a clutch three to end the Longhorn run and move the Mountaineers lead back up to six points.

“Taylor Palmer is our shooter,” said West Virginia head coach Mike Carey. “She took 16 shots and only played 25 minutes. That is what she does though; she is a great player and she hit a really big shot for us.”

Palmer, who came off the bench for the Mountaineers, had 12 of her game-high 18 points from behind the arc. The sophomore guard also pulled down five rebounds and had three assists on the afternoon.

The Longhorns, who have struggled with slow starts all season long, had their worst first half of the season on Saturday, scoring just 18 points in the opening frame.

“We had just five defensive rebounds at halftime,” Goestenkors said. “We’re not going to beat anybody with five defensive rebounds; we rely on defensive rebounding to get our transition game going.”

Poor rebounding wasn’t the Longhorns’ only problem on the afternoon. Texas had one of its worst shooting performances of the season, converting on just 27.9 percent of it’s field goals. Aside from senior Ashley Gayle, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds to earn just her second double-double of the season, not a single Longhorn player shot better than 50 percent from the field.

Texas’ backcourt trio of Yvonne Anderson, Ashleigh Fontenette and Chassidy Fussell struggled to get anything going. Anderson was a team-worst two of 13 from the field while Fontenette made just four of her 15 field goal attempts. Fussell, who led the team in scoring during the regular season, had just eight points in the game. The sophomore made only three field goals and failed to get to the free-throw line.

“The main goal was to deny her (Fussell) from getting the ball,” said Jess Harlee, who guarded Fussell most of the game. ”I just had to focus on staying out on her and not letting her catch the ball.”

The Longhorns will now begin their off-season as they hope to improve on this year’s disappointing finish. It will be up to the likes of Fussell, Cokie Reed and Chelsea Bass to lead next year’s squad as Anderson, Fontenette and Gayle will all be graduating in May.

Women's Basketball Preview

Fresh off their most impressive win of the season, the Longhorns will look to make it four in a row and nail down a spot in the NCAA tournament against Texas Tech (18-12, 6-12 Big 12) tonight.

After beating No. 17 Texas A&M in its final regular season game on Sunday, Texas (18-12, 8-10 Big 12) has now won three straight contests and will look to stay hot against the Lady Raiders as they begin their postseason journey at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City, Mo. The Longhorns have been on the NCAA tournament bubble the past couple weeks and would likely be out of the tournament conversation had they not won each of their last three games.

“We’ve been playing inspired basketball recently,” said Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “Particularly in these last few games, when our backs have been against the wall. We’re really peaking at the right time.”

Texas will need to play with the same intensity and emotion that they’ve demonstrated over their recent three-game win streak if they hope to beat the Lady Raiders and advance to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Despite their low standing in the Big 12, Texas Tech is not to be taken lightly. The Lady Raiders were undefeated in nonconference play and at 14-0 were ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation in early January.

The Lady Raiders haven’t been quite so fortunate since. A couple five-game losing skids and the inability to win the close ones have led Tech to a disappointing 4-12 record down the stretch. Seven of those 12 losses have been by nine points or less.

The Lubbock squad plays a very physical game, using its size and strength to gain position on both ends of the court. The Lady Raiders offensive attack is led by senior post Kierra Mallard, who is averaging team highs in points (11.3) and rebounds (7.9). Tech rotates a trio of bigs at the other post spot, including senior Jordan Barncastle, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting between these two teams.

“They’re very physical,” said Goestenkors after the first meeting. “They did work and they banged inside. Our posts were posting up about five or six feet away from the basket. When we did get the ball they doubled us, and we put the ball down and turned it over. So I just thought they were very determined.”

The Longhorn guards will also have their hands full tonight. The Lady Raider backcourt players Casey Morris and Monique Smalls have started every game for Texas Tech this season and are two of the best on-ball defenders in the Big 12. The two have a combined 146 steals and 102 blocks on the season.

If Texas can get a win tonight, they’ll remove all doubt and punch their ticket to the Big Dance, but a loss would put them right back on the bubble.

“I feel like we’re in,” Goestenkors said. “But we still feel that we need to go to the [conference] tournament and represent and do well.”

Yvonne Anderson scans the court during Texas’ win over Texas A&M. Anderson scored a career-high 25 points in her final home game. The senior helped lead UT past the Aggies in the last scheduled meeting between the two teams.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Yvonne Anderson turned in the best performance of her career on Sunday afternoon.

In her final home game as a Longhorn and in Texas' last scheduled meeting with Texas A&M, the senior guard helped Texas keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Anderson had a career-high 25 points and added nine assists and three steals as the Longhorns defeated the Aggies, 79-64, in the final game of the regular season. The win gave Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors her first season sweep of Texas A&M since taking over the program prior to the 2007-2008 season.

“Texas played with a sense of urgency today,” said Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair. “It all starts with guard play, and their guards were just a lot better than ours. [Yvonne] Anderson played like she was playing for mom and dad today. And that was the biggest key in the ball game.”

With his team's regular season schedule complete, Anderson's dad, Mike, who is the head men's basketball coach at Arkansas, got the chance to see his daughter play for the first time this season.

“It's pretty special,” Anderson said before the game. “I don't want to put any more pressure on myself. The fact that he gets to come on our senior night versus A&M is pretty exciting.”

Anderson wasn't the only one to go out in style at the Frank Erwin Center on Sunday.

Ashley Gayle and Ashleigh Fontenette, the other two Texas seniors honored before the game, each played a big role in the victory. Gayle had five rebounds, four points and three steals while Fontenette had 11 points and three assists.

“I'm really proud of the seniors,” Goestenkors said. “They've done a great job when we had our backs against the wall in particular. I'm very happy for them because they deserve this, and they wanted to make sure that they will be going to the NCAA tournament and they're doing everything in their power to make that happen.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, after being blown out by No. 1 Baylor, it looked as if the Longhorns had let their tournament hopes slip away. Texas was a paltry 5-10 in conference play and, with tough opponents like Oklahoma and Texas A&M still left on the schedule, looked to be NIT bound.

But much has changed since then.

The Longhorns have won three in a row, by an average of 18 points each, and may have locked up a spot in the Big Dance.

“We've been playing inspired basketball these last few games,” Goestenkors said. “We're really peaking at the right time.”

With the odds already in their favor, the Longhorns will look to cement their spot in the field of 64 with a strong showing in this weekend's Big 12 Championships in Kansas City. Texas enters the tournament as the eighth seed and will face ninth seeded Texas Tech in the tournament opener on Wednesday evening. The winner of that game will face Baylor on Thursday.

“You don't want to take any chances and put the call into anyone else's hands,” Goestenkors said. “We still feel that we need to go to the tournament and represent and do well.”

Printed on Monday, March 5, 2012 as: UT ends rivalry in style

Ashley Gayle and the rest of the Longhorns senior class will lead the team into Texas A&M for the last time, as conference foes. The seniors would like nothing more than a win over their rivals to end their regular season careers, and add to their tournament resumes.

Photo Credit: Sa Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ seniors could not have drawn up a more dramatic departure.

The veteran trio will play their final game at the Frank Erwin Center on Sunday in what will also be the last Big 12 meeting between the Longhorns and storied rival No. 17 Texas A&M (20-8, 11-6 Big 12). Factor in the must-win nature of the contest and you get one heck of a storyline.

“Obviously there’s a lot riding on this game,” said senior Ashley Gayle. ”There are just so many emotions in a game like this. We’re all very excited. It’s always fun to play A&M, and we beat them last time out so that’s huge for our confidence.”

The Longhorns (17-12, 7-10 Big 12) defeated the Aggies in College Station in early January and will need to come up with another big upset this weekend as they look to boost their NCAA tournament resume before heading to Kansas City for the Big 12 Championships.

Considering the struggles that head coach Gail Goestenkors and her senior class have had against the Aggies, a season sweep would be a great a way to go out.

“The rivalry is pretty intense,” Goestenkors said. “Not just since we’ve been here, but for more than 100 years, these two schools have been battling it out. We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the last ever Big 12 game between us two. It’s going to be a statement game just like it was when our football team beat theirs earlier this year.”

Prior to this year’s victory, Texas’ senior trio of Gayle, Ashleigh Fontenette and Yvonne Anderson were 0-6 against Texas A&M, while Goestenkors was also win-less at 0-8.

“To finally get a win this year was definitely the high point in the rivalry for me,” Fontenette said. “It had just been so long since we beat them. We’d come close a few times, but to finally get that win under our belts this year was huge for our confidence.”

This year’s senior crop also holds a special place in Longhorn history as they were coach Goestenkors’ first recruiting class. As Goestenkors looked to build upon the team that former head coach and Longhorn legend Jody Conradt had left behind, she made a lasting impression on the trio and was a big part of why they chose Texas.

“Coach Goestenkors’ hire really got the ball rolling for us,” Anderson said. “Obviously the academic staff, the campus, the city of Austin and the fans all had to do with why we chose Texas, but to have the opportunity to play for a coach like Gail [Goestenkors] was just such an honor.”

While there have been several moments over the past four years that have helped these seniors develop the tight-knit relationship they currently enjoy, perhaps the biggest moment came just a couple of weeks ago, before the Baylor game. Just prior to tip-off, Goestenkors sat all three seniors down and talked to them about what they need to do to finish off their careers the right way.

“[Goestenkors] just talked to us about having no regrets,” Fontenette said. “We just want to leave it all on the court. We don’t want to have to look back and feel like we didn’t do enough. Ever since that conversation, we’ve taken it one game at a time and we’ve poured our heart into everything we do on the court.”

Texas has won two of three games since that night, with both wins coming in a convincing fashion. If they can find a way to win one more, these seniors might just create a new favorite memory.

“We’ve done some pretty cool things since I’ve been here,” Gayle said. “Going to the Virgin Islands and our trip to Europe were both a lot of fun, but to sweep A&M on senior night, that would probably be a pretty cool experience.”

Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: Seniors look for victory in team's last trip to A&M