Tarleton State University has built a tradition of basketball success for its men's and women's teams at the NCAA Division II level.
And now, as they prepare for their final season at that level, readying for a move to Division I next season, both programs are intent on enhancing those reputations even more before they move up.
"I think this is going to be a fun season, one that folks can come out and really enjoy," women's head coach Misty Wilson said. "I think it (the final season in D-II) does make it more special. It'll be something to cherish throughout the season.
While men's head coach Chris Reisman understands the enthusiasm and shares the excitement, he said there is a little unfinished business at the current level his team is addressing.
"I've got four seniors who don't give a dang about D-I. They're focused on now. I told my returning players we can talk about that in a few months," Reisman said. "It puts an even bigger bullseye on our back. Everyone gets their last shot at us, but that's something that should motivate us also."
The Texans return three starters from last season's 21-10 squad that reached the second round of the Lone Star Conference Tournament in Reisman's first season as head coach. He was also part of a long range of success as an assistant to his father Lonn Reisman that included numerous trips to the NCAA Tournaments, with a semifinals appearance in 2015 and an Elite Eight appearance in 2016.
"Even though we won 21 games, I just don't like not playing in the postseason. We're used to going deep in the NCAA Tournament, and it's time to get back to that," Reisman said.
The Texans are seeking their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2017, having gone 19-11 and also reaching the second round of the LSC Tournament in Lon's final season.
The three returning starters for the Texans are 6-7 senior forward Josh Hawley, 6-3 senior guard Randall Broddie, and 6-6 senior forward Jaraan Lands, who played in seven games before being medically redshirted.
Hawley had a breakout year as a junior, leading the team and the LSC in points (506), finishing with a scoring average of 17.3, along with leading the conference in rebounding (9.9), field goal percentage (.576), and double-doubles (15). He also became one of just 17 players in Texans history to score 1,000 points in his career, earning first-team All-LSC, the LSC Defensive Player of the Year (he averaged 1.9 steals and 1.2 blocks), and NCAA D2 Conference Commissioners Association first-team All-Region.
Broddie averaged 11 points and 1.6 assists, and Lands averaged 10 points and five rebounds in the 2017-18 season, starting 30 games.
For Broddie, this is the first time he has returned for a second season in his college career. He redshirted as a freshman at Memphis, then played one season at Navarro College and another at Walters State, averaging double-digit scoring at each school.
"Coach Chris took a chance on me, a kid from a junior college moving around. He taught me everything you do pays off if you just keep working hard," Broddie said. “My leadership role has definitely picked up. I feel my role is to get these younger guys onboard and ready."
Other notable returners for the Texans include 6-7 junior forward Clashon Gaffney (4.7 points, 4.3 rebounds), 6-6 junior forward Sam Marshall (3.9 points, 3.3 rebounds), and 6-3 junior guard Isaiah Boling (3.4 points, 1.0 assists).
The Texans' roster featured four seniors, seven juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen.
"I think we're a much better defensive team," Reisman said, noting the Texans' strengths. "I think we have athleticism and quickness to be more than man-to-man. We want to be able to be a team that disrupts.
"I think we have a team that is excited to share the ball, which is great for our offense."
Reisman said he is excited about the recruiting class, which is meshing well with the key returning pieces.
"We had to get more pieces across the board, not only upperclass transfers, but freshmen," he said.
Among the top transfers are 6-1 junior guard Devin Bethely from Seward Junior College, and 6-8 senior guard Zach Naylor from Weatherford College and Mississippi. Among the freshmen standouts is Javontae Hopkins from Fort Bend Travis High School.
"He really brings a point guard that suits me, gets people involved. He's a barometer," Reisman said of Bethely.
As for the conference race, Reisman said it is going to be perhaps the toughest conference around.
"The Lone Star is no joke. There were about 30 D-I transfers in our league last season, and there'll be a lot this year," he said. "We've got guys that know what to expect. You can't go through the Lone Star without that, knowing what they're going up against every night, and with the addition of the Heartland Conference (which merged with the LSC after last season) we got a lot tougher. Saint Edwards won 30 games and returns all five starters, Dallas Baptist has been to two straight NCAA Tournaments, and Lubbock Christian was in the NCAA last year."
And, of course, the LSC, as usual, was well-represented in the postseason. West Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Commerce, and Angelo State advanced to the postseason, with WTAM winning 34 games and advancing to the Elite Eight.
Coach Wilson's team returns two starters from last season's 22-8 team that advanced to the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a third consecutive season to do so for the Texans.
Returning for Wilson, who is in her sixth season as head coach at Tarleton, are 6-2 senior forward Mackenzie Hailey and 5-6 senior guard Kylie Collins (4.4 points, 1.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists).
Hailey was named All-Region for a third straight season, along with first-team All-LSC (her third straight all-conference honor), and was named to the All-LSC Defensive Team. With her second straight first-team All-LSC honor, she joins former players Shelby Adamson and Kiara Wright as the only players in team history with multiple first-team all-conference accolades.
Hailey was also a 2017-18 Women's Basketball Coaches Association honorable mention All-American.
Last season Hailey led the team in points (483), scoring average (15.6), rebounds (225), rebounding average (7.3), and blocks (33). She also averaged 1.3 assists and two steals.
Both Hailey and Collins are entering their fourth season starting for the Texans.
"Being here four years, I feel she really understands the program. Each year I feel like she's expanded one area of her game," Wilson said of Hailey. "This year, it's off the dribble.
"While not a verbal leader, she leads by example. When your leading scorer is the hardest worker on the team it really sets an example.
"Kylie is more vocal. She also works her tail off. She understands what I want on the floor. She's a great quarterback. Our system just works better when she's on the floor.
"They both do such a great job helping those younger players, and they'll be called on even more this year."
Along with the two seniors, the Texans' roster features four juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen.
"Being a four-year starter and senior, I have a responsibility to help the younger girls learn the plays and get ready," Hailey said. "I'm hoping we go out with a bang.
"Kylie and I were on the same select team growing up, so it's going to be bittersweet not playing with her after this season, but I'm excited about what life has to offer."
Other notable returners for the Texans are 5-6 junior guard Nina Alvarez (3.9 points, 2.3 assists), 5-5 senior guard Destiney Winkfield (2.9 points), and 5-11 junior forward Lucy Benson (2.4 points, 2.8 rebounds).
As for the recruiting class, Wilson said she is pleased.
The conference will once again be tough, particularly with the addition of defending national champion Lubbock Christian (twice in four years) from the Heartland Conference Also, five teams from the LSC were invited to the NCAA Tournament (West Texas A&M, Angelo State, Texas A&M-Commerce, Eastern New Mexico, Tarleton).
Angelo State fell to Lubbock Christian in the South Central Region final. WTAM reached the regional semifinals.