COVINGTON - Former Rockdale Lady Bulldogs standout Angelique Burtts and her East Mississippi Community College women's basketball team are ready to claim the NJCAA D-I basketball title as the nation gears up for the tournament season.
Burtts and the Lady Lions reached the 16-team tournament by beating the No. 9 Copiah-Lincoln Community College Lady Wolves 52-43 on March 5 for the Region 23 title.
This is the first time the Lady Lions have reached the tournament since 1978.
"Oh my God, it feels great," Burtts said. "When we won region I just cried because this had never happened before, its been a long time."
In the Region 23 finals against the favored Lady Wolves, Burtts had a double-double, her eighth of the season, with 20 points and 13 boards.
In their two previous meetings, Copiah-Lincoln won both games by 19 points.
Besides helping EMCC to a region championship, Burtts has played a big role in helping the Lady Lions reach the tournament. Not only is she the team leader, she also paces the team in scoring and rebounding.
Burtts averaged 15.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
She had a season-high 27 points against Holmes and had her best rebounding effort against Northwest Mississippi with a total of 19 - 12 defensive and seven offensive.
When she left Middle Tennessee State, she knew she was going to have to play a bigger role than just being on the court. She was put in her position as the team leader from the very beginning.
"I had to take it over; there was not a clear leader," Burtts said. "That's what coach (Sharon) Thompson had told me when she first came and got me from Tennessee. She said she needs me to step up a be a leader and carry the paint. I told her I can do it.
"I feel comfortable being the team leader. I knew I had to step up because I'm the oldest on the team and I know from experience from Middle Tennessee State how the game is played. I came here to learn more and to teach my younger teammates."
East Mississippi, the No. 12 seed, will take its first step toward the championship at noon Wednesday against the No. 5 seed Lady Senators of Walters State Community College (Tenn.).
"Everyone on the team has to understand their role, but Angelique is our leading scorer and rebounder. She needs to bring those two things," Thompson said. "She leads the team in scoring and rebounding, so she brings a lot to the team."
Win or lose, Burtts will always be thankful to Thompson for everything she has made her do. Even though it felt like punishment at times, all the hard work paid off.
"I want to thank Sharon Thompson. She's been hard on us all year and it's paying off," she said.
Burtts is transferring to Georgia State next season and hopes to continue to play in the professional ranks overseas.
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.