Lady Panthers favored to win 4th crown in 5 years
Fred Jeter | 2/28/2020, 6 a.m.
The Virginia Union University Lady Panthers have barely tapped the brakes in running roughshod over the CIAA women’s basketball tournament during the past five years.
Coach Ann Marie Gilbert’s Lady Panthers arrived at the tournament in Charlotte, N.C., as usual with the label of heavy favorite.
The numbers under Coach Gilbert are staggering.
In her five seasons with the team, VUU is 134-17 overall and 70- 10 in the CIAA regular season play, winning five straight Northern Division trophies.
Additionally, the tal- ented Richmonders are 10-1 in CIAA Tournament play —with three titles in four years — under Coach Gilbert and 9-4 in NCAA Division II playoff action.
The Lady Panthers were scheduled to play a quarterfinal game on
Wednesday, Feb. 26, in Charlotte. If successful, they will advance to the semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, and, if form continues, to the final at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29.
The Lady Panthers are ranked 12th nationally and fourth in the Atlantic Region, and can look forward to another trip to the NCAAs in a couple of weeks.
There is depth aplenty on Coach Gilbert’s roster. When superstar Shareka McNeill suffered a season-ending injury in December, others stepped up, including her twin sister, Shameka McNeill.
Taking her turn in the spotlight last Saturday was sophomore forward Ifunanya Okoye, who enjoyed a “career game” with 31 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots in the Lady Panthers’ 66-49 win over Virginia State University.
An influential newcomer has been 6-foot-1 Dy’Manee Royal, a transfer from Florida A&M University. Royal averages nine points and eight rebounds per game and forms a formidable front line with Okoye and Jasmine Carter.
VUU women have won the CIAA Tournament MVP trophy three of the last four years — Kiana Johnson in 2016, Alexis Johnson in 2018 and Shareka McNeill last year.
There’s room for the name of another Lady Panther to be inscribed on the trophy once action ends this Saturday.