June 23, 2014 9:39:40 PM
Vic Schaefer likes to talk about working with the best coaching staff in America to build the Mississippi State women's basketball program into a contender for championships.
Schaefer and MSU took another step toward realizing their goals by adding another champion to the mix.
On Monday, Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College women's basketball coach Elena Lovato accepted a job as an assistant coach at MSU. Lovato replaces Brittany Hudson, who left recently to take a similar position at Ole Miss, and joins associate head coach Johnnie Harris, assistant coach Aqua Franklin, and director of basketball operations Maryann Baker.
"Elena is a proven winner having won back-to-back national championships as head coach at Trinity Valley Community College and she is highly regarded by coaches across the nation because of her tremendous work ethic in all facets of the game," Schaefer said in a statement released by MSU. "Because of that relentless work ethic, she will fit in very well with our current staff. We have hit a home run with Elena joining the Mississippi State family."
According to a press release by TVCC, Lovato's resignation is effective June 30. It wasn't known at press time when she would start at MSU. She amassed an 81-4 record at TVCC, and is 113-8 as a head coach.
"It's a tremendous blessing to have this opportunity to work with someone like coach Schaefer, who has the similar morals and values as I do as a person," Lovato said in a statement released by MSU. "The family-like environment and championship vision he and his staff have instilled within the program is what sealed the deal for me."
Lovato couldn't be reached for comment via text or cell phone Monday night.
This past season, Lovato guided TVCC to its third-consecutive national title, and the second under her leadership. Mississippi State signee Jazmine Spears played a key role in TVCC's latest championship.
Dan Olson, founder of Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and director of espnW's HoopGurlz, has known Lovato for quite a few years and has watched her climb the ranks of the coaching carousel. He said there is no doubt Schaefer hit a "home run" with his hire.
"She has reached the pinnacle of junior college women's basketball," Olson said. "She won two national championships and she was well on her way to a third. She had a dynasty going on there at Trinity Valley just like the number of other people who started a dynasty there. She is the most recent in a list of people like the Landers family - Kenya and Michael - and Kurt Budke (who went on to become the coach at Oklahoma State). She really made her mark.
"To take on a new challenge at Mississippi State speaks volumes of Mississippi State and their commitment to their women's basketball program, not only to step up to the plate and gain such a person in Elena and, in general, in terms of their commitment level to their women's basketball program because they have seen what Vic Schaefer has done in such a short span of time with that program, and it has not been purely with all of his players, said Dan Olson, of Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and espnW's HoopGurlz. "For him to have done such a phenomenal job, they see what they have gotten and they are fully committed. It is great for Vic. It is great for Elena. It is great for Mississippi State. It is great for women's basketball. I am excited for her. I know she is going to be working for a phenomenal guy and a great school. I know it had to be tough for her because I know she had to love Trinity Valley because of the success rate there, but this is what this business is all about, taking on new challenges, and I applaud her efforts."
Lovato led TVCC, which is in Athens, Texas, to a 36-1 record this past season. In the past two seasons, Lovato had a 72-2 record. She was named NJCAA National Coach of the Year earlier this year.
A 1997 graduate of Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lovato played basketball at West Texas A&M and Missouri Southern State. She also played in the Puerto Rican Women's Professional League and for Chicago in the National Women's Basketball League. A knee injury ended her career in 2002.
Lovato then spent four years working in pharmaceutical sales and teaching and coaching at Menaul High in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She spent a year teaching physical education and coaching junior varsity basketball in Buffalo, Missouri, before landing a job as an assistant coach at Pittsburg (Kansas) State. She worked for coach Lane Lord as a graduate assistant coach and earned her master's degree in physical education.
Lovato then worked as an assistant coach at Houston, where she spent one season, before becoming an assistant coach at TVCC. Lovato was named interim head coach late in the 2009-10 season and guided the team to a 9-2 record and a sixth-place finish in the national tournament.
Lovato wasn't retained by TVCC and became the head coach at Grayson County C.C. in Denison, Texas. She transformed a program that went 4-26 in 2009-10 into a team that went 32-4 the next season. From there, Lovato moved on to become an assistant coach at Division I Nebraska-Omaha before moving back to TVCC to become head coach. In her first season, Lovato led TVCC to a 36-1 record and its second-consecutive national crown.
Earlier this month, Lovato told The Albuquerque Journal she had been approached by a few Bowl Championship programs about becoming an assistant coach or a recruiting coordinator. She said she didn't feel like those opportunities were the right fit. She also said the job she took as an assistant coach would have to be a job "with very special people, somebody who I feel like will groom me to be a head coach at that level. Until that happens, I'll just keep paving my own way."
Judging from Lovato's comments, she found that fit at MSU.
"I couldn't be more thrilled to be joining the Mississippi State family," Lovato said. "I have known the staff for a long time, and I couldn't ask for a better group of people to spend my days with as an assistant coach in the SEC. I've always said it would take something special for me to leave Trinity Valley, and it doesn't get any better than this. I will enjoy every minute of the learning process, and believe me, I will take full advantage of coach Schaefer's mentorship."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.