When Camila Lacerda arrived on the Crowder College campus from her home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she spoke almost no English. She quickly found communicating with her teammates difficult and often frustrating. That frustration, she admits, took its toll early on.
That’s no longer the case, and listening to her speak on Wednesday as her and three other Lady ‘Riders teammates signed letters of intent, her English has, like her game, improved immensely. She credits that to the family approach shown to her by her teammates and coaches. Their patience and guidance helped her grow to the point, she says, that it’s landed her an opportunity to continue her hoops career at Oklahoma City University.
The Lady Stars, the 2012 NAIA Division I Women’s National Champion, are the type of championship program Lacerda said she desired.
“I want to go to the best basketball program,” the freshman said. “I’m pretty sure they have a really good team and a really good program. Hopefully I’m going to enjoy my three years over there.”
Lacerda, who averaged 10.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists and two steals per game, said her time at Crowder has shaped her into the type of player Oklahoma City needs.
“I really had a good time here (at Crowder) and I really learned a lot with my basketball skills and improving,” she added. “I enjoy playing with those girls, and I’m not sure yet if I can find some family like us again, but I learned a lot with them. They helped a lot with my English. They had patience with me and I’m so glad and happy that I could meet them.”
Lacerda’s feelings were echoed by the three others who signed on Wednesday — Sarah Sagely, Terai Sadler and Seleena Neal.
“To be honest, I wish (Crowder) was a four year school,” Sagely said.
“The people here are just amazing,” Sadler chimed.
“They helped me a lot,” Neal added.
Now they’ll all move on to help other programs flourish the way the Lady ‘Riders did this season. Sagely plans to do so at Northeastern State University in Talequah, Okla., Sadler with the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark., and Neal with Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.
“Obviously we would have loved to have had this group back because they were a great group,” Crowder coach Tina Robbins said. “But we’re very excited for them and the opportunities they have to move on. I think each of them will contribute at the schools they’re going to and make a significant impact.”
Page 2 of 3 - With a majority of the team that made the NJCAA National Tournament last season moving on, Wednesday was a reminder of the turnover the Lady ‘Riders will see next season.
In 27 games, and before a knee injury ended her campaign prematurely, Sagely, a native of West Fork, Ark., averaged 31 minutes per game at guard in which she averaged 12.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals. On the mend physically, Sagely is chomping at the bit to get back on the floor.
“I’ve been doing physical therapy for about a month now,” she said. “I’ve been running for about the past week — which is great. I picked NSU because I liked their program. Their coach is great. He’s a good guy.
“There were other schools, but I just felt NSU was the best for me. Coach Robbins is the best coach I’ve ever played for besides my dad. It was just amazing here. The style of play and the girls I played with — it was just so much fun to play with them. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Sagely said her familiarity with one player in particular, former high school teammate Melissa Jones, gave her the desire to recapture the camaraderie they shared on the floor in high school. They’ll get that opportunity next season for the RiverHawks.
“When we played together in high school we just played so well together that I just thought we could have that again,” Sagely said. “(Jones) loves it up there, so I just thought that it would be a good thing for me. I went up last week for a visit and I absolutely loved it. I’m excited to see what it holds.”
A native of Waitara, New Zealand, Sadler had plenty of suitors, but turned down a handful of schools — including Sam Houston State and Utah Valley University, after, as she described, her priorities changed.
After building relationships in the USA, particularly in the four state area, Sadler said she wanted to remain close to the people that mean so much to her now.
“If you would have asked me at the start of the year I would have said I’m going somewhere with a beach, somewhere warm,” Sadler said. “But then, I guess over the year priorities change and I wanted to be close by the area, because I’ve made lots of friends and family and I want them to come watch me play.
“The people here are just amazing. I just want to keep them in my life and I feel like the best way to do that is to stay close by, and it’s easier for me because UCA is a great school. So, if it had not been such a good school it would have been hard for me.
Page 3 of 3 - “UCA was in a good location for me and I loved the school, loved the coaches and I just loved everything about it.”
The 5’11 Sadler was a force for the Lady ‘Riders as she averaged 35.8 minutes, 18.6 points, nine rebounds, 2.4 assists and two steals per game in 33 games.
Neal, a redshirt freshman and native of Senath, Mo., will head to Stephens, where she figures to be a vital member of coach Chris Duncan’s team next season. Neal caught the eye of Duncan in a game against State Fair earlier this season.
“She’s going to build a lot of team chemistry,” Duncan said. “We expect a lot out of Seleena in the three years we’re going to have her. She’s going to be our starter right off the bat, and our offense is going to run through Seleena a lot.”
Neal saw time in 32 games for the Lady ‘Riders last season, averaging 13.3 minutes, 5.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
“I think she averaged 18 points in the games I saw her play this year,” Duncan said. “Every time I saw her she was outstanding.”
Neal said she’s grown as a player at Crowder and looks forward to contributing to the Lady Stars the next three years.
“I love the campus and where it’s located at,” she said. “The campus and the coach was what really led me there.
“(Crowder) helped me a lot. I redshirted last year and it made me get chemistry with the team and get out there and be outspoken. It taught me a lot of things on the court and helped me.”
Robbins said this was a special group. The camaraderie each player spoke about was evident as teammates crowded behind the four as they signed their letters of intent.
“We as coaches can only do so much,” Robbins said. “We try to foster a family environment, but this group has really taken hold of that and helped us to create that family environment.”