December 2, 2009 8:40:00 AM
East Mississippi Community College women''s basketball coach Sharon Thompson is relying on freshmen in order for her team to have a successful season.
Twelve of EMCC''s 15 players are freshmen. Of the team''s sophomores, only one -- Martika Hull -- is a returning starter, while the other -- Eryn Gray -- is a transfer from Meridian Community College.
One player who is contributing in her first season with the Lady Lions (5-4) is guard Natalie Tate, of Columbus.
Tate, a 2009 graduate of Columbus High School, is EMCC''s second-leading scorer with an average of 11.5 points per game. She leads the team with 29 assists and 21 steals.
"Natalie''s done good," Thompson said. "She''s done a good job of shooting the ball for us, especially knocking down threes. There''s been a couple of games where I''ve gone to her to shoot and she''s come through. She''s doing good for a freshman. She''s getting better every day."
Tate has helped the Lady Lions with her outside shooting, leading the team with 13 3-pointers.
She made three 3-pointers and was the team''s second-leading scorer with 15 points Monday in a loss at Jones County C.C.
"We have some out-of-bounds plays for her because she''s a good shooter," Thompson said. "She can knock them down. There''s been numerous games where she''s knocked down some big shots for us."
Tate also has contributed by distributing the ball on offense and being a ballhawk on defense.
Tate showed Thompson what she''s capable of doing in the preseason. The effort helped her earn a starting position. She has started all nine of the Lady Lions'' games, and is one of three players to start every game.
"It comes from working hard in practice," Tate said of earning a starting position. "It let''s me know I''m doing my job. It makes me feel good."
Tate has contributed the past five games despite being hobbled by an ankle injury she suffered in the fourth game of the season against Shelton State.
As a junior in high school, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee while driving into the lane against Noxubee County.
"I didn''t really know if I was hurt," Tate said. "I didn''t think I was hurt. When I found out that I was, I didn''t want to have surgery. When I had the surgery I just wanted to get back. I knew I was going to play again because I made up my mind that I was going to do the work to come back."
She has completely recovered from the knee injury and she said, "I look past (the ankle injury) when I''m out there playing."
Tate is one of three former Columbus High players playing for the Lady Lions. The others are Gray and freshman Nashedra Barry.
The 6-foot Barry is averaging 5.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. She is fourth on the team in scoring.
Barry has improved as the season has progressed and has started the last four games. She averaged 10.1 points in games from Nov. 16 to Nov. 24 before being limited to four points against Jones County.
"She''s done good," Thompson said of Barry. "She started off kind of slow. I think she was just nervous. The last three or four games she''s averaging in double figures. She''s really stepped up."
Gray has started six of nine games and is averaging 4.8 points per game, which is fifth on the team.