Nneka Enemkpali

Associate athletic trainer Lisa Stalans has led the team through a challenging season, including the loss of senior forward Nneka Enemkpali.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

In late January, against a highly ranked Baylor team, senior forward Nneka Enemkpali drove to the basket and jumped near the hoop for an offensive rebound. On her way back down, she fell awkwardly, collapsing in excruciating pain as she suffered a serious knee injury. Immediately, associate athletic trainer Lisa Stalans rushed to her on the court.

What came next was the hardest part.

Soon, Stalans had the task of telling Enemkpali her college basketball career was over. 

“It was heartbreaking for me to say that,” Stalans said. 

It was something Stalans had done before and will most likely do again in the future. As an athletic trainer for the women’s basketball team, Stalans is in charge of the health and rehabilitation of the athletes. She evaluates them, tends to them and even delivers heartbreaking news — like she had to do with Enemkpali.

“It’s part of my job,” Stalans said. “I try to keep them calm and say, ‘You know, we’ll see what happens.’ It’s been stressful. When an athlete gets hurt, your biggest thing is getting them back on the court as soon as possible, but they just can’t go out there when they’re 50 percent.”

However, Stalans’ job also gives her the opportunity to deliver the good news when an athlete can return. 

In December, freshman guard Ariel Atkins was out indefinitely after an ankle injury. But on Jan. 16, Stalans announced Atkins could return to the court. This week, Atkins won the Phillips 66 Big 12 Freshman of the Week honor for a third time this season. Stalans said it’s those moments when the athletes’ hard work in rehabilitation pays off that make her love her job. 

“I try to get them back better than they were before the injury,” Stalans said. “That is my challenge to myself — to make an athlete better than they were.”

Currently in her 14th season at Texas, Stalans has been with the women’s basketball team since 2009, longer than current head coach Karen Aston. Before that, Stalans spent nine years with the Texas soccer and women’s tennis teams after she arrived in Austin in 2000.

Texas has kept Stalans busy this season. Nine longhorns have missed at least one game because of injuries. But, fortunately for Texas, the injuries didn’t happen all at once. 

“I do feel like one got hurt, and then I get that person back, and then I’d lose another one the next week,” Stalans said.

Her main concern is getting her athletes ready for their next step, which in most cases is just getting ready for the next game.

“We got back at three this morning from West Virginia, so today was all about ice baths,” Stalans said. “I tell them to think of it like a spa.”

When senior forward Nneka Enemkpali went down with a knee injury, Texas started to struggle. Now, they’re trying to get back on track with a win against rival Oklahoma.
Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Last week, the women’s basketball team’s momentum came to a halt. 

After starting the season in dominating fashion, senior forward Nneka Enemkpali’s injury at Baylor put a stop to the Longhorns’ success. But the situation worsened after an MRI revealed that Enemkpali tore her ACL.

The team will miss Enemkpali’s presence. Before the injury, Enemkpali, a 6-foot-1 forward from Pflugerville, led the Big 12 in rebounds with 10.4 per game, double-doubles and rebounds during conference play. With the help of the forward, Texas started the season 14—0, including wins over three top-10 teams in Stanford, Texas A&M and Tennessee. But since the start of Big 12 play, the Longhorns have struggled. The Longhorns lost four of its past five games, including a loss in the first game without Enemkpali against Iowa State.

While the loss of Enemkpali is huge, the Longhorns can’t afford to let this injury result in a bad season.

Despite losing their starting forward, the Longhorns need to regroup and find a way to replicate their early season success.

Sophomore center Kelsey Lang should be the focal point of that regrouping. Lang is shooting 85 percent from the field and has averaged 12 points per game and seven rebounds during the Longhorns’ past two games. The Longhorns also need the help of junior center Imani McGee-Stafford, who is putting up consistent play despite a low amount of playing time. She leads the Longhorns at the free-throw line, making 13 out of 16 shots from the charity stripe. 

If Texas wants a chance at a postseason run, it can’t afford to take a step back and can’t allow Enempkali’s injury to ruin its season. 

Senior forward Nneka Enemkpali suffered a season-ending injury in the first half of Texas' 75-58 loss against Baylor. Texas' third loss in four games keeps head coach Karen Aston searching for her 150th career win.
Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Regulars in the audience at the Frank Erwin Center know that women’s basketball head coach Karen Aston finds it hard to sit still, even in the best of circumstances. Aston can almost always be found squatting, pacing or bouncing around chairs on the sidelines — unable to contain her noteworthy enthusiasm.

Aston is only the fourth coach for the program and in her eighth season overall as a head coach. In Waco on Monday, her Longhorns attempted to earn her 150th career victory — and fell short, largely because senior forward Nneka Enemkpali tore her ACL before halftime.

As Aston watched from the sidelines, hands over her mouth, No. 8 Texas lost, 75-58, against No. 3 Baylor.

Aston is one of the best-known female coaches in Texas, and she’s on the brink of a great victory — but considering the Longhorns have lost three of their last four games, Aston’s upcoming career milestone is probably not her focus. And as a decorated Longhorn coach, Aston can be certain her day will come soon.

What Aston is focused on is Enemkpali, whose injury represents a much more urgent concern for the team as a whole. 

Enemkpali has been on a hot streak lately, a large part of Texas’ 13-0 start to the season. As Aston worked to rebuild the program, she relied upon Enemkpali, an All-American candidate and Big 12 leader in rebounds.

Before her injury early in the game Monday, Enemkpali co-led the team with sophomore center Kelsey Lang at six rebounds each — but her ACL injury means her season is over.

“It is never easy to see a student-athlete’s career cut short like this,” Aston said. “My heart goes out to Nneka because she has grown so much during her career at the University of Texas.”

Aston, whose 150th victory is just around the corner, said she hopes Enemkpali will be by her side to watch when the Longhorns return to action.

“Nneka has been the heart of our program for quite some time, and, as we move forward, she will continue to play a vital role on this team from the sidelines,” Aston said.

The Longhorns have won 13 consecutive games at the Erwin Center, but going forward, Enemkpali will not be able to rebound and assist. When Texas faces off against Iowa State in Austin on Sunday, it will do so without its veteran forward. Iowa State defeated Texas earlier this season with a 2-point lead at the buzzer. 

Enemkpali ends her collegiate career ranked ninth in total rebounds, 30th in total points for Texas, and currently holds first place in the Big 12 for rebounds.

Sophomore center Kelsey Lang and Texas are off to a 5-0 start after their upset win over Tennessee.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

The fourth-ranked Longhorns women’s basketball team will continue its six-game home stand at the Frank Erwin Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against New Mexico.  

Texas, now 5-0, ended a five-game losing skid against Tennessee with its win over the Lady Volunteers on Sunday.

The Longhorns had four players score in double digits, including senior forward Nneka Enemkpali, who scored 17 points for Texas. Freshman guard Ariel Atkins scored 12 and sophomore guard Brianna Taylor followed with 11.  

For Enemkpali, there was only one more chance to break the losing streak against Tennessee.  

“It feels amazing,” Enemkpali said. “We have to stay humble and remember this is just the beginning.”

Texas led 30-20 at halftime. Sophomore center Kelsey Lang scored an impressive 18 points and Texas continued its blazing start with a 72-59 win.

“I have gained so much confidence because they have confidence in me,” Lang said. “I couldn’t do what I do without my teammates giving me the kinds of passes that they have been giving me.” 

Texas claimed its second consecutive Phillips 66 Big 12 honor this week when Lang was named Phillips 66 Big 12 Player of the Week, one week after Enemkpali was given the same title.

Head coach Karen Aston believes her players’ efforts are paying off, allowing a special era of basketball to unfold at Texas this season.

Texas has beaten two top-10 teams, including Stanford, in just five games this season.

Texas moved up two spots to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 on Monday. It is the Longhorns’ highest ranking in both polls since December 2008 (No. 4/4) after starting the season 11-0.

An injury report confirms junior center Imani McGee-Stafford is not cleared to participate Wednesday because of a leg injury. 

Texas will put its win streak on the line against the 1-5 Lobos.

Senior forward Nneka Enemkpali scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Tennessee on Sunday. Enemkpali sunk 13 of her points during the second half of Texas’ 72-59 win.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Outscoring its opponent 38-26 in the paint under the leadership of sophomore center Kelsey Lang’s 18 points and six rebounds, the women’s basketball team defeated the fourth-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers, 72-59.

Despite this matchup being the 33rd consecutive season the teams played one another, Sunday’s victory is the first time since 2008 the Longhorns defeated the Lady Volunteers.

Texas head coach Karen Aston said she didn’t know whether the team would win but knew they had prepared well.

“I thought this was a really tremendous effort from our basketball team,” Aston said. “I think our inside game was terrific today. They battled really hard … and did the things it takes to be a presence in the paint.”

The Longhorns grabbed the lead early in the first half and extended as high as a 12-point margin.

In the second half, sophomore guard Brianna Taylor and senior forward Nneka Enemkpali continued their scoring streaks. Enemkpali went 7-of-10 from the field to score 13 of her 17 points in the second half. Taylor did not miss a shot the entire game, totaling 10 points and five rebounds.

“I come off the bench and give us energy, rebound, defend and help [Enemkpali] out down there in the paint,” Taylor said. “[I’m] just coming in, being solid and getting stops on defense, so I’m learning.”

Within 10 days, the Longhorns (5-0) won two games against top-5 opponents. Aston said the wins influence the players’ mind-set significantly.

“We have players that have never been in these situations before or players that are older that have not had these significant wins before, so I think from a confidence perspective, it is unbelievable,” Aston said. “Now we have a long way to go.”

This season, Lang has scored double digits in every game. She said that after the team found out about junior center Imani McGee-Stafford’s injury, she changed her mentality to become an offensive threat.

“My teammates and coaches have helped me so much with that,” Lang said. “I have gained so much confidence because they have confidence in me.”

Freshman guard Ariel Atkins ended the game with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Enemkpali said she overheard Atkins talking about how fun the season has been so far, but Enemkpali said the veterans must remind teammates that the season is far from over.  

“If you want it to continue to be fun, then we have to work as hard as we’re working to continue to have fun,” Enemkpali said.

The Longhorns will continue their six-game home stint against New Mexico on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Senior forward Nneka Enemkpali, freshman guard Ariel Atkins and junior center Imani McGee-Stafford were named to preseason All-Big 12 honors, which the conference released Wednesday, in women’s basketball. 

Enemkpali was named to the All-12 Big 12 preseason team after landing a spot on the All-Big 12 first team a season ago. Last year, she averaged 12 points and just over eight rebounds per game and totaled 28 assists as a forward. Her 3.1 offensive rebounds per game in her career ranks her third all-time at Texas. 

Atkins was named the preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year, despite not having stepped onto the court yet for the Longhorns. Atkins was key a part of the Duncanville Panther team that had a 105-game winning streak. In her senior year with Duncanville, Atkins averaged 17.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and was named the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year.

McGee-Stafford earned a spot as a preseason honorable mention after leading the Longhorns with 2.2 blocks and 12.1 points per game in conference play last year. Heading into her junior campaign, McGee-Stafford sits seventh in Texas history with 147 career blocks.

West Virginia junior guard Bria Holmes was named the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and Oklahoma sophomore guard Peyton Little was named preseason Newcomer of the Year.

The Longhorns will open up their 2014-2015 season with an exhibition game against Oklahoma City University on Nov. 9. 

Back in January, Texas fought valiantly against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State in an attempt to open conference play with a win. Junior forward Nneka Enemkpali contributed 18 points and nine rebounds to the battle, and sophomore guard Brady Sanders hit 10 second-half points in hopes of closing the gap. But the Cowgirls outlasted Texas with a 67-61 win.

Some things haven’t changed since then. Oklahoma State (22-6, 11-6 Big 12) still holds a top-15 ranking, while Texas hasn’t been ranked all season. Enemkpali is still playing well for Texas, scoring 19 points to complement nine rebounds against Texas Tech this weekend. And Sanders still explodes in the second half, as she notched 13 of her career-high 17 points Saturday after the half.

But with this leadership, one thing has changed: Texas has won conference games. And it’s won a lot of them at home. To name one, the Texas Tech team that competed to a 3-point game at buzzer Saturday lost by 37 at the Frank Erwin Center on Feb. 5. The inconsistency is striking. But the Longhorns’ home success should bode better for them Monday night than the rocky conference start.

“It was a competitive game, a little bit ugly,” head coach Karen Aston said of the Jan. 2 matchup. “It looked like the first game of the Big 12, a little bit slower pace than both teams play, just trying to figure out … the nerves of the first Big 12 game.”

Leaving the nerves and slow pace behind in January, the Longhorns (19-10, 10-7 Big 12) have done some catching up. Sitting just one game behind Oklahoma State in the Big 12, Texas’ hope lies in rebounding.

Oklahoma State outrebounded Texas 40-38 on Jan. 2, and the teams tied with 28 points a piece in the paint. But Texas now tops the Cowgirls’ 2.6-rebound advantage in conference play. This is where Enemkpali, who averages 8.8 rebounds per game, will have to rise to the occasion.

Aston said the team’s rebounding struggled in Stillwater, Okla., and depended heavily on Enemkpali.

“It was significant when [Enemkpali] got her fourth foul because she’s such a terrific offensive rebounder,” Aston said. “I really thought we lost all of our offensive rebounding during that stretch when she was out of the game. We just had to try some combinations that were, to say the least, very inexperienced.”

Most of these combinations have gained experience in the 16 conference games since Stillwater. But the Cowgirls haven’t sat idly, either, as their top-15 ranking shows.

Though the ranking gap looks large nationally, Texas has a chance to catch Oklahoma State in the Big 12 on Monday night. With senior night and their conference standing on the line, the Longhorns have a lot to prove.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Tuesday night’s game didn’t put a damper on sophomore guard Brady Sanders’s 21st birthday, as the Longhorns came back to post a solid 62-50 victory over TCU. 

“No one want [wants] to lose at home, and no one wants to lose on their birthday,” sophomore center Imani McGee-Stafford said. “So, not only did we want to protect the drum, but it’s [Sanders’] birthday and we wanted to send her home with the ‘W.’”

Despite the birthday celebration by the team, it was uncommonly quiet in the Frank Erwin Center; the only significant applause of the first half came when junior forward Nneka Enemkpali got back on her feet after taking a hard fall late in the first. 

Crowd energy is an important motivating factor for the Longhorns and having minimal enthusiasm from the stands didn’t help Texas early. The Longhorns didn’t play well in the first half and trailed by seven at half to one of the Big 12’s worst teams. 

But Texas knew this was a game they couldn’t afford to lose. 

“Gotta protect the drum,” said McGee-Stafford, who grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds. “We’ve come this far. We’re not trying to give it up.”

It was a big game for redemption. Earlier this season, TCU beat Texas for the first time in series history. The Horned Frogs held Texas to its lowest shooting percentage during conference play — 30.4 percent — and it was the only game this season in which no Texas player recorded double-digit points.

Texas came out of the locker room running in the second half. Two free throws by Enemkpali were immediately followed by a layup from senior guard Chassidy Fussell. The crowd finally stood up and the sound of cheering filled the arena.

“I thought our team came out of the half and just decided that they were going to win the game on the defensive end and on the backboards,” head coach Karen Aston said. 

Texas snagged 55 rebounds to TCU’s 29. The Longhorns weren’t as quick to the basket in the remainder of the second period. But, after junior guard Krystle Henderson’s three-pointer broke the Longhorns out of their deficit to put Texas up by two, the Longhorns calmed down and became more consistent in their shooting, leading to their 12-point win.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

It looked as though Texas could have escaped Norman with a last-second win.

Down one with four seconds remaining, Oklahoma guard Morgan Hook missed a free throw, and the Longhorns took it coast-to-coast as junior forward Nneka Enemkpali found herself behind Oklahoma’s defense. 

Enemkpali completed the layup, but took too much time as the shot fell about a second late. Instead of Texas celebrating, it was Oklahoma, clad in pink uniforms, that celebrated in front of a crowd of pink uniforms with a 64-63 win.

“It was a tough loss,” head coach Karen Aston said. “Defensively, we just weren’t good enough down the stretch. We can’t put ourselves in a position to have to make that play on the road.”

Hook, who recorded 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, was just a free-throw short of being perfect in the final minutes of Wednesday night’s game.

Hook pushed the tempo, going down the court for a game tying layup with 43 seconds to go to tie the game. 

Then, after Texas didn’t get a call on a hard collision at the rim, Hook drove right at sophomore center Imani McGee-Stafford, drawing a foul with just four ticks remaining. 

Hook sunk just one of two, but that was all the Sooners needed to skirt past the Longhorns without their best player.

“We just attached ourselves to Morgan’s will. We really did,” Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said. “She … made tough play after tough play. … She was not going to be denied this win.”

Oklahoma guard Aaryn Ellenberg, who leads the Sooners (16-11, 7-7 Big 12) with 18 points a game, was knocked out in their last contest against Oklahoma State with a concussion and was not able to suit up against the Longhorns. 

This was supposed to be a break for the Longhorns (17-9, 8-6 Big 12) who saw Ellenberg drop 37 points against them in their first matchup but still pull off an overtime win. But this time, without the Sooner star, Texas fell to the balanced Sooner offense led by Hook that saw three players score double-figures. Both teams struggled from the field as Texas shot 40 percent and the Sooners shot 38.6 percent.

“Despite miserable numbers, I told them in the locker room that this stat sheet is ugly, but the important number on there is 64,” Coale said. “We had one more point than they did and we finally figured out how to win a close game.”

Enemkpali and senior guard Chassidy Fussell led the Longhorns, combining for a total of 33 points, while McGee-Stafford and sophomore guard Celina Rodrigo grabbed eight rebounds each. The Longhorns also recorded eight blocks, seven from McGee-Stafford.

Texas will try to recover from the loss when they play Iowa State on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Ames, Iowa. 

Dressed in pink, Longhorn head coach Karen Aston was flustered and red as she watched her team struggle against Baylor in the annual Shoot for a Cure game Sunday.

No. 7 Baylor shut down Texas, 72-56, handing the Longhorns their first home loss of the conference season.

Aston and Bears head coach Kim Mulkey mirrored each other on the sidelines — pacing back and forth, squatting on the court, directing their players and shouting at the refs. Both coaches made sure the officials knew when they disagreed with a call, and Aston even received a technical foul for her actions on the sideline.

“I think I probably earned that foul,” Aston said.

The intensity of the players on the court was equal to that of their coaches off of it. Aggressive physical play resulted in several trips to the foul line for both teams.

Early in the first, junior forward Nneka Enemkpali, who leads the Big 12 in rebounding, racked up two fouls that sent her to the bench. From there, Enemkpali and replacement Imani McGee-Stafford alternated play time until McGee-Stafford eventually fouled out. 

Her teammates’ foul trouble gave freshman Nekia Jones an opportunity to play increased minutes in the second half and she continued to prove her worth as a key player on the team.

“I know that when coach puts me in, she’s confident in me,” Jones said. “And I’m confident in myself, so I just have to be ready.”

Texas’ loss on Sunday was the Longhorns’ eighth consecutive defeat at the hands of the Bears.

Aston’s team struggled where it has been consistently strong. Inaccurate shooting and sloppy ball handling — Texas committed 26 turnovers — led to the Longhorns’ downfall.

“I thought we were uncharacteristically frantic offensively,” Aston said. “A little careless with the basketball.”

The Longhorns’ frenzied playing gave Baylor the opportunity to pull away and establish a comfortable lead, seemingly breaking down Texas’ morale.

“They just had a little bit more heart and a little bit more grit in them,” Enemkpali said.

Texas has three days to get its spirits back before traveling to Norman, Okla., to take on Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.