Bud Childers has said all along his Winthrop women's basketball team needed to have a breakout season in 2007-08. So far, the Lady Eagles are off on the right foot.
The Lady Eagles are 6-2, equaling their best start since the 1983-84 season when Karen Brown guided the team to a 17-14 record. Eight games into the schedule they've already matched last season's win total (6-26).
"There's no question about it, we're off to a good beginning," Childers said Tuesday. "The players have prepared well, have worked hard and have made some big plays that have enabled us to win some close ball games."
The Lady Eagles have put together a string of accomplishments:
• Starting 2-0 for the first time since the 1983-84 season.
• Winning their first tournament title since moving up to NCAA Division I, beating Jacksonville -- 4-1 at the time -- 50-49 in the title game of the Lady Pirate Invitational in Greenville, N.C.
In that tournament, they beat the host Lady Pirates for the first time in six meetings.
• Seeing Tiffany Rodd become the school's all-time leader in 3-pointers -- 145 -- eclipsing the mark of Jennifer Castles, who made 145,
• Winning four road games -- twice as many as a year ago when they went 2-14 away from Winthrop Coliseum.
Winthrop's success has come despite some continued areas of concern that Childers and his staff continue to address.
The Lady Eagles have committed 68 turnovers in the last three games and are averaging 20.3 per game.
"We've played so many games early and we haven't been able to practice like we need," Childers said. "Now, we're getting down to one or two games a week and that will get us back on a good routine. Then we can work on some things."
Childers said everyone on the team realizes that 20 turnovers a game is way too many if the Lady Eagles hope to contend in the Big South Conference.
"We have periods where we just get sloppy and give the other team eight, 10 or 12 extra possessions," Childers said. "The difference this year is that we're getting back on defense and making the stop."
Losing big parts of double-digit leads, turning routs into nail-biters, is another worry.
"It's part of the maturation process," Childers said. "These kids have never played with big leads. Teams that have struggled have to learn how to win, learn how to win close games and learn how to play with leads."
Winthrop had a 20-point lead against Norfolk State Monday but had to hang on at the end to escape, in what Childers called "an ambush waiting to happen."
"We had been on the road five days, had spent Thanksgiving on the road and were coming off an emotional tournament win at East Carolina," Childers said. "We were flat, played very robotic and didn't have the edge we've been playing with. We were definitely off our game.
"But we were able to overcome their early assault, then (Ashley) Fann, (Shelly) Hankins and Rodd stepped it up in the second half and we had enough to win."
Rodd is averaging 12.8 points, scoring 15 in each of her last three games. She was the team's leading scorer in the first seven games.
Fann, an All-Big South preseason first-team selection, is averaging 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds. The rest of the scoring has been balanced, with six players averaging between 4.3 and 8.4 points a game.
And there's been others.
Junior Ashley Haugtvedt is averaging five rebounds a game and her defensive play at the buzzer enabled Winthrop to escape Jacksonville.
The Lady Eagles had Tuesday off, something that will allow Childers to travel to Chester to watch his son, Brett, make his debut as South Pointe High School's girls coach.
"I'm a little anxious," the elder Childers said, "but he's a very capable coach. He loves his team and is very excited about coaching them."
Winthrop closes its six-game road trip at Davidson Sunday.
• CHECKING 'EM OUT: The softball team has been working pre-game security at Carolina Panthers home games this season to help defray some of the cost of the team's trip to Palm Springs, Calif., in February.
• HELPING HANDS: The men's and women's basketball teams have partnered with the Toys For Tots program to help underprivileged children at Christmas.
Toys will be collected at the Dec. 4 men's game with Akron, while the women have designated the Dec. 9 game against Johnson C. Smith.
Fans who bring a new toy will receive a free ticket with the purchase of a game ticket.