SAGU picks 'perennial' power forward
Laken Ward is two-time All-Stater
Fourth signee bolsters Lady Lions frontline
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Gardeners know that proven winners are often perennials.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University women’s basketball Head Coach Arlon Beadles has a green thumb when it comes to planting teams that bloom in season.
Last week he traveled an hour north of Little Rock to Hattieville, Arkansas where signed Laken Ward to a National Letter of Intent to study and play at SAGU. The 5-foot-10 inch forward just graduated from Class 1A Wonderview High School.
She made a huge splash at a small town (pop. 1,683) school, twice earning First Team All-Conference, All-Region and All-State in 2012 and 2013.
So dominating was Ward that she was selected to the All-State Tournament team in both her junior and senior seasons. Her biggest moment may have come at the climax of her junior campaign.
She sparked Wonderview to the state championship by scoring 34 points, ten in the fourth quarter, to lead the Lady Daredevils to a 62-57 semi-final win against once-beaten Nevada HS (Rosston, Ark). She also contributed nine rebounds.
In the finals, played in Hot Springs, Ward had 10 points and 10 boards to drive Wonderview to their first-ever state crown, a 44-33 triumph over Kingston HS.
For her performance she was named the MVP of the State Tourney. She racked up averages of 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3.5 assists that year.
“Laken is a very tough rebounder,” Coach Beadles said. “She can really pass the ball too. She is a proven winner.”
“I look forward to having her on our team,” he continued. “Laken is a wonderful Christian young lady who will be a great leader on our campus.”
After going 19-18 during her sophomore season, Ward and her Daredevil teammates rolled to a 38-6 record in her junior campaign. It coincided with the hire of first-year Head Coach Jeremy Simon.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride,” he said after winning the state title. “I’m proud of them. From where we were when we started the season to where we are now, it’s been incredible. Our players stepped up when their number was called and because of that, we had the pieces in place to win a state championship.”
Wearing a target on their backs, the Wonderview team’s encore season stamped ‘legit’ on their championship run a year earlier.
Despite losing five of their top seven players, the Daredevils returned Ward and 6’0 guard Bailey Zimmerman. The duo rallied Wonderview to a No. 4 state ranking, a 30-9 season, and another berth in the state’s Final Four.
Coach Simon said the team had to rely on both players, and described the strengths of Ward.
“She’s a real physical basketball player,” quipped Simon. “She’s strong around the basket. She’s very aggressive on rebounds and goes after loose balls."
"Laken is just tougher than most players," he continued. "She has the ability to score around the basket, and she’s developing a 15-foot jump shot.”
Laken enjoys fishing and hunting along with spending time with her family, often combining them. “Family is a big thing for me,” she said.
“I’ve got two little sisters. I love helping them get better at everything they do,” she added.
As for improving her skills, “I know I have to work hard and give 100 percent every day in practice, every game, and lay it all-out on the court.”
Ward is the daughter to parents, the Rev. Danny and Tonya. Her father is a veteran Youth Pastor at the Family Worship Center, which is in Morrilton, Ark. Not surprisingly, her faith plays a huge role in her life.
“I really just want to be a leader for our team,” Ward said. “For me, faith is a big aspect of what I do. God is always No. 1, so I want to show people who I am working for and that all my talents came from him.”
“All of the glory goes to him. I want to share that with my teammates as well.”
The addition of Ward helps solidify a recruiting class that is long on potential.
SAGU’s interior game suffered a year ago, yielding too many offensive rebounds and putbacks. Combine that with injuries to other players and Coach Beadles focused his recruiting on forwards.
He inked 6’0 Charity Paige (Nocogdoches, Tx / Nocogdoches HS) and now, Ward, to provide toughness and scoring punch in the paint.
Two other incoming freshmen, point guard Monica Dorsey (Garland, Tx / Sachse HS) and winger Alexia McAfee (DeSoto, Tx / DeSoto HS) will aid a backcourt that committed 23 turnovers per game and connected on only 29% from three-point range.
The return of key performers, some hindered by injuries, could provide the Lady Lions with a much more competitive team than the unit that went 9-21 last winter.
SAGU will begin playing as a member of the Sooner Athletic Conference this fall.
Past Five Seasons in Purple
|Year||W-L Record||PPG For||PPG Against||Margin|
Key: PPG - Points Per Game For (Offense), Against (Defense Allowed)