By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Dan Buzard isn’t completely healthy, but suffice it to say he’s thrilled to be returning as the Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball coach.
Buzard sat out the 2004-05 season after suffering a cancerous brain tumor in July 2004. He was able to be around the program last year, but has been battling to get his eyesight back after the illness. Assistant Dustin Klafka ran the team and led the Zias to a 13-14 record.
Klafka took an assistant’s job with the women’s program at South Plains College in his home town of Levelland, Texas, so the program is back in Buzard’s hands. Before becoming ill, Buzard coached the Zias for two years, leading them to the LSC postseason tournament in 2004, after spending 13 seasons as an assistant to Wayne Moore.
ENMU men’s and women’s teams were ready for the official start of practice Friday at Greyhound Arena.
“We’re excited,” Buzard said. “I think it’s time to get started. We’re going to have to get ready pretty quick.”
The Zias have an exhibition game at Division I Texas-El Paso on Nov. 6, and open the regular season nine days later at Western New Mexico.
Four players return from last year’s team, including starters Heather Brown and Tiana Bryant. Also back on the 18-player roster is former Texico standout Elizabeth Richards, who sat out the 2004-05 season and will be a junior in eligibility.
“It’s good to have Heather and Tiana and people like that back to help,” Buzard said. “They understand my way of doing things. And (new assistant Chad) Walker has stepped in and done a good job.”
Sixth-year ENMU men’s coach Shawn Scanlan has a bunch of new players after the Greyhounds, South Division champions in 2003 and 2004, struggled to a 9-18 record last year.
“We’ve got more new faces than returning faces,” Scanlan said. “We have a lot of potential; with time, they can come together and be a good group.
“We’ll find out about that over the next couple of weeks.”
ENMU has 11 scholarship players and six walkons, Scanlan said. Guard Jolen Montoya and forward Chad Donnell saw regular playing time last season, while walkon Aaron Rodriguez also had some major minutes when the team ran into injuries and personnel problems.
Scanlan said the Hounds have already lost one player, transfer guard Kevin Davis, to a season-ending shoulder injury. Davis had surgery on Friday.
The Hounds have preseason scrimmages Oct. 28 against Midland Junior College at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock and Sul Ross State — coached by former ENMU assistant Doug Davalos — Nov. 10 at New Mexico JC in Hobbs. Also, they will host Fort Lewis in a 7 p.m. exhibition game on Nov. 4.
The regular season opens Nov. 15 at Lubbock Christian.