published Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Rachel Lockhart's defense, consistency key for Lee University

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Hollie German scores 19.4 points a game. Jenna Adams averages 14.8 points and 9.3 rebounds. Julia Zimmerman has become good for three or four 3-point baskets a game down the stretch of the season. Julia Zimmerman has become good for three or four 3-point baskets a game down the stretch of the season.

But perhaps the most needed player on the 30-2 Lee University team that opens the NAIA Division I women's basketball tournament at 8:30 Wednesday morning in Frankfort, Ky., is one who averages three points a game.

That is Rachel Lockhart, a 5-foot-9 junior guard from Sequatchie County High School who surely could score more but makes her mark by limiting other teams' scoring -- specifically, the most dangerous perimeter player for each opponent.

"Rachel is our best defender and our model of consistency," Lady Flames coach Marty Rowe said Saturday. "You know what you're going to get from her every game, and it's always good.

"Outside of our team and people who watch us every day, people don't know good a player she is and how important she is," Rowe added. "But if you ask anybody on our team who our most important player is, I think they'd say Rachel."

Anybody but Lockhart, that is, although she understands her job is crucial.

"Hollie runs the offense, and she's an amazing defender as well. She takes a shooter," Lockhart said. "And Bambi (Brooke Hamby) takes the point guard. I'm generally on the most athletic player."

That means Sharde Henry for LSU Shreveport, Lee's first-round foe in the 32-team tournament. Henry is a 5-9 senior wing who averages 19 points a game.

"I think I see so much more on defense [than on offense]. I understand defense," Lockhart said, noting that the Lady Flames play man-to-man "75 to 80 percent" of the time. "And I talk to my team on defense a lot. The key on defense is trusting each other to know we'll be there.

"We know Hollie's going to hit shots, and we know Julia's going to hit a big shot, and Jenna's going to take control at some point. And Mary Jackson and others are going to make plays or get big rebounds. But it's little stuff that wins games," Lockhart said, "and that includes believing that every loose ball is ours and helping each other on defense.

"We focus on getting stops, not steals."

Lockhart redshirted as a freshman, when the Lady Flames reached the national semifinals. They have played annually in the NAIA tournament, but this is their last one before moving to NCAA Division II, and they want to make another deep run. Last year they lost in the first round but played well, Rowe said, falling to a Biola team that played exceptionally.

The Lady Flames had a 14-game winning streak before their 70-69 loss at Southern Polytechnic on Jan. 26 and are 13-0 since then.

"This team has improved more, start to finish, than any team I've had in my 15 years of coaching," Rowe said. "They've bought into their roles better than any team I've had here at Lee.

"We've got great leaders with our seniors (Hamby, Zimmerman and Jackson) and Rachel and Hollie. I think the seniors have embraced this being our last year in the NAIA and have done some special things already."

The Lee team was afflicted with a stomach bug of some kind over the weekend, with Rowe and seven players affected at one time, but they hope that will be reduced to mere butterflies by Wednesday morning.

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