WINSTON-SALEM, NC — Thursday night’s blowout win over Claflin University was a microcosm of how the 2022-2023 season has played out for WSSU women’s basketball.
Winston-Salem State easily disposed of Claflin with a 78-43 win in front of an electric home crowd at the C.E. Gaines Center with a nationally televised game. But the joy of such an overwhelming win was a moment that shook the entire team and gymnasium to its core.
WSSU forward Erin Hall suffered a lower-leg injury in the third quarter of the game and was down on the Gaines Center floor for several minutes, and eventually had to be carted off of the court. Head coach L’Tona Lamonte was amongst the first to get to her player, who lay face-down on the court.
“Hate for the player to go down like that. She literally was just diving in…kind of got chucked a little bit,” Lamonte said after the team’s win. “And it’s amazing because she’s a strong kid and the young lady that that she was battling with for position is just as strong.”
According to her father, Avery Hall, the young lady suffered a dislocated ankle with two fractured ankle bones and a torn ligament.
“Erin is doing well. Once the ankle was reset and the pain meds kicked in, she talked more about not being able to finish the season with her teammates as they work towards a CIAA title,” Hall wrote in a Facebook post.
“She didn’t play a lot last year and didn’t play a lot in last year’s CIAA tournament and was really looking forward to the CIA tournament as a contributor this year. It hurt to see her crying and upset about this and not that she is about to have surgery, but behind my sweating eyeballs was a proud parent because of her realizing the blessing and opportunity of playing/competing.”
After her parents arrived and the WSSU medical staff were on top of the situation, Lamonte rushed over to her team — which was visibly distraught. She gathered the team together and led them in a prayer on the bench as she was taken from the floor to the bowels of the Gaines Center and ultimately to the hospital.
“The first thing I told the players — I said, we got to pray for strength. Not just strength for Erin, but also strength for us,” Lamonte said. “I think our team was also emotional at the time. I don’t know if you saw it, but everybody was in tears. And so being able to make sure we can keep our head and that we can make sure that we’re fighting through. You know, that was key. But I had to pray for them because I had to let them know that, you know, God doesn’t put more on us than we can bear.”
WSSU coaching staff working to keep team grounded
Winston-Salem State improved to 13-8 on the season, and 9-4 in CIAA play.
The Lady Rams have remained competitive despite losing several key post players, including 6’3 center Kendra Ross and fellow big O’Shay Hatley.
“We still have a chance to win out and still be in first place,” Lamonte said mustering a bright, but weary smile. “But the thing is, how do we bounce back from adversity? And I think that’s the thing that this team is having to deal with.”
WSSU is currently in second place in the CIAA South with a 5-2 Division record, one game behind Fayetteville State, whom it will face on the road on Saturday.
“How are we going to play Fayetteville State? I don’t know right now, because we’re going to have to change up our game plan because we just lost another post player (Hall). “And so now we’re down to one taller post player and everybody else is a little smaller. We just gotta change some things up and figure some things out.”
Winston-Salem State is a program with 12 CIAA men’s basketball titles, but still searching for its first conference crown on the women’s side. The task for Lamonte is as much about keeping her team’s mental composure as it is figuring out how to compete for the CIAA title with an undersized squad.
“Although we’re going through some adverse situations right now, we’ve got to keep our we got to stay levelheaded,” Lamonte said. “We got to make sure we’re doing the right thing and we’re doing things the Winston way.”