One career was coming to an end while another was just getting start. As Zya Nugent and Riley Harvey crossed paths at Stephen F. Austin, there was hope that they would help the Ladyjacks reach the NCAA women's basketball tournament for the first time since 2006.
The freshman guard from Denison and the senior forward from Howe, separated on the roster by a single digit, had different outlooks. Nugent was going to the next level after her standout career as a Lady Yellow Jacket. Harvey was coming off an injury that had ended her junior season and knew this would be the final opportunity to play the game she's love since she was little.
Nugent and Harvey were two more victories from making the dream come true. The Ladyjacks were 23-6 and finished tied for second in the Southland Conference standings with Abilene Christian — behind regular-season champ Texas A&M-Corpus Christi — but earned the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament. Stephen F. Austin had the double-bye into the semifinals when the rest of the season was cancelled two days before the Ladyjacks were scheduled to play.
“We beat every team in the conference at least once. We weren't given the opportunity to show how good we are,” Harvey said.
The coronavirus pandemic forced an ending to the year. Nugent will get three more chances to go dancing. Harvey, who was one of just two seniors on the roster along with Kennedy Harris, was left out one final time when the music stopped.
“I definitely thought we'd get three more games, two in the tournament and one postseason — we were guaranteed one more,” Harvey said. “The whole thing was a shock. All the emotions started flowing in and I felt like I was robbed. Of course we're not the only ones. It happened to every senior and there are bigger problems in the world.”
In Harvey's first two seasons, Stephen F. Austin was a win away from making the NCAA Tournament.
The Ladyjacks were in the conference tourney final for the first time in three years but lost to top-seed Central Arkansas before a loss against UT-Rio Grande Valley in the first round of the Women's Basketball Invitational during her freshman year.
Then as a sophomore, Harvey and Stephen F. Austin put together another 25-win season and made the conference tourney final but the second-seeded Ladyjacks were upset, 69-65, by fourth-seed Nicholls State. The team the opened the WNIT with a loss against George Mason.
Last year there was another 25-win season but SFA, the No. 2 seed, was upset, 58-56, in the semifinals by sixth-seed A&M Corpus-Christi.
So this was going to be the last chance for Harvey to get a taste of the NCAA Tournament until her final season came to a screeching halt.
Harvey missed the first game of the season but then started 27 of the final 28. She averaged 5.5 points, 4.3 rebounds — which was third on the team, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals, which was second on the team.
Her best outing of the season came against Central Arkansas with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. She had three games where she scored in double figures, like a 10-point, nine-rebounds contest against Abilene Christian, and others where she came close, like the nine points and seven rebounds against Nevada.
“I definitely see a lot of personal growth and team growth,” Harvey said. “We all face different adversities as college athletes. As a program we were taking the right steps. We have a lot of good players and next year I know they'll have just as a good a chance, maybe even better.”
As a junior, she played in 15 games, starting nine of them, before an injury forced her to miss the rest of the season. Harvey averaged seven points and 5.1 rebounds with her best efforts being a 15-point, 10-rebound, four-assist outing against Our Lady of the Lake and made 5-of-7 shots for 12 points to go with 12 rebounds against Tulsa, finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds against Montana State and totaled 13 points, six rebounds and three steals against Texas Southern.
During her sophomore seasons, she played in 31 games and made two starts as she averaged five points and 3.3 rebounds and led the team with 20 blocks. She had 16 points in the Southland Conference Tournament final to go with 13 points against South Dakota and nine points and five rebounds against Nicholls.
As an incoming freshman in 2016-17, she saw the most minutes among first-year players at 17.5 per game and played in 31 contests as the team won its first 14 games for the best start to a season since 2001. Harvey averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals with her best game being 19 points and five rebounds against Prairie View A&M. She had 13 points and 11 rebounds against Incarnate Word, 15 points and six rebounds against Northwestern State and 11 points and eight rebounds against LSU-Shreveport.
Harvey had actually graduated at the end of her sophomore season with a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She will graduate in May with her master's in Business Administration.
“That was a goal of mine — to play basketball while I was getting two degrees,” Harvey said. “I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do.”
Nugent's introduction to college hoops did not start off well — in her first five games she scored a combined 22 points and was shooting under 30 percent from the floor — but by the end of the season, she was one of the top reserves in the conference.
“For me personally in my first year, I struggled at the beginning with college life, the school aspect and fitting in with my teammates,” Nugent said. “Second semester the light bulb went off. I wasn't satisfied but I was in a good place. I was putting up numbers I didn't expect.
“It was good for me to go through that at the beginning. It's good to face adversity.”
She finished the season by averaging nine points — fourth-best on the team — to go with 2.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals. Nugent played in all 29 games but did not start a single one. She had the most minutes off the bench, earning the trust of head coach Mark Kellogg — a 1998 graduate of Austin College, and made them count.
“He told me I could be this, I could be that — I just had to go get it,” Nugent said. “Going into it I wanted to find my role. He liked me in that role. It was good for me. It was good for the team. I was behind a senior so the goal for me is to be a starter and if I work hard I believe I can do that.”
As the conference tournament approached, Nugent was playing her best ball of the season with four straight double-digit outings, including hitting five three-pointers on the way to 18 points against Northwestern State and 17 points against Lamar.
Even though she never played more than 26 minutes in a game, Nugent scored in double-digits 12 times, including a career-high 20 points against Sam Houston State
“I was happy with what we accomplished. It was good up until the coronavirus,” Nugent said. “We were in practice when it happened. When they said no fans, at least we were going to play. I was said. I was heartbroken for our seniors. Kennedy was a fifth-year senior who came back to win a ring. And Riley had injuries too. It sucks to put in all that work and then it gets taken away.”
That the Texoma duo would find success at the Division I level isn't surprising. Both were four-year standouts in high school.
Harvey was the district MVP and an all-region pick every season and was an all-state selection her final two seasons for the Lady Bulldogs.
And while she was performing at a high level, it was done at a consistent tempo: Harvey averaged 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.4 blocks as a senior, then 20.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 2.2 blocks as a junior, preceded by 17.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 2.1 assists as a sophomore to go with 15.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 1.1 blocks as a freshman.
Nugent closed out her career with the Lady Yellow Jackets as a three-time all-state selection and Denison's all-time leading scorer with 2,835 points. She averaged 24.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 3.1 assists and was the District 10-5A Offensive Player of the Year as a senior after being the 5-5A MVP with 25.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 3.8 assists as a junior, when the Lady Jackets made the region quarterfinals for the first time with a school-record 31 wins.
She was the 5-5A Offensive Player of the Year at 22 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game after being selected the 10-5A Newcomer of the Year with 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.