By Austin Bishop
The Winston County Journal
The minute Marianne Ward steps on campus as a member of the University of West Alabama women’s basketball team next august the first thing she will likely ask for is a set of keys to the gym.
“You can’t keep her out of the gym,” said Robin Chastain, Ward’s current coach at Winston Academy. “She is a tremendously hard worker and is constantly up here working.”
That hard work paid off for Ward earlier this month when she signed a scholarship to play for UWA, an NCAA Division II school based in Livingston, Ala.
“I have played pee wee since the fourth grade and ever since then my dream and goal has been to play college basketball,” Ward said. The 5-foot-10 senior wing for the Lady Patriots said she was looking at several junior colleges, but when UWA made the offer, she and her parents Joe and Annette Ward felt that was the place for her.
“It was a beautiful campus and I really like the size of the school,” she said. “I was looking for something that fit me. It’s kind of small and is like Winston Academy — everybody knows everybody. I kind of wanted to go to a place like that.”
Ward and Chastain — who played college basketball at Delta State University — both realize there is a lot of hard work ahead for the slender sharp shooter.
“I am going to stay in the gym and work hard,” Ward said. “I know it’s going to be tougher, but that’s what I’m looking forward too. I enjoy the competition.”
“She is very coachable and does everything I ask her to do,” Chastain said. “On the college level she will to play more of a three guard. Here, we need her in the post. She will have to push herself a little more, but she is capable of playing at that level.”
UWA head coach Craig Roden said he is looking to bring in one or two key freshmen each year as he tries to rebuild the program. He coached at the school early in his career and is now in the fourth year of his second tour of duty in Livingston.
“We got back here three years ago and have been charged with turning it around,” Roden said of the Lady Tigers program. “As you get it turned around you have got to get it stabilized. We are looking to bring in a couple of freshmen every year so three or four years down the road you have a nucleus of six to eight program kids. Then you can supplement that with transfers.”
Roden said Ward has a big upside and is looking for her to make great strides during her career at UWA.
“We think Marianne is going to be a really good player,” Roden said. “She shoots the ball well and she is a winner. She is the type player we are looking for.”
While Ward is learning all she can from Chastain and is looking forward to improving under Roden, she is also quick to give thanks to former coaches Susan Ard, Steve Roberts and Jessica Dickens.
Ward, who has started on the WA varsity team since the ninth grade, went into the current season with 1,207 career points and 426 career rebounds. She once had a stretch of making 31 consecutive free throws and her high scoring game is 39.
Her brother, Jesse Ward, is a running backs coach at Delta State.