After doubting whether she wanted to play her senior season, Howard Payne Lady Jackets forward Chelsi Woodard has a renewed enthusiasm for the game under new head coach Yannick Denson.
Despite finishing the 2017-18 campaign at 15-11 and second overall in the American Southwest Conference in blocks, Woodard finished her junior season with her third program in three years and lacked the enthusiasm to train for her final season until receiving a call from Denson.
“I wasn’t going to come back after last year, but I had a come to Jesus moment over the summer,” Woodard said. “I wasn’t sure who they were going to bring in and when I called Coach [Denson], I knew if I came back here I would be taken care of and I was. I had a rough patch getting here, but with the help of both of my coaches they made my transition a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.”
Standing at 6-feet, Woodard’s stature alone makes her suited for rebounding and blocking shots. After graduating from Clear Springs High School in 2015, she appeared in 30 games for Southeastern Illinois College, then transferred to McLennan Junior College in Waco before finding her way to Howard Payne University last season. During her first year with the Lady Jackets, she started five of 21 games – swatting a team-leading 46 blocked shots.
“It’s amazing. I was transitioning a lot. I came from a school like Clear Springs where everybody knew everybody. Leaving Illinois, then going to Waco and transferring here, I first treated it like going to JUCO,” Woodard said. “I was just there for the time being and leave. That was not the case when I got here. I was resistant to making relationships with people, but I’m glad I did … Even though it’s a new coach, new system, the school is still the same. I love that. I haven’t experienced that in a long time and I’m grateful.”
Woodard has seen limited action so far this season due to an ankle injury, but her contributions so far have come in rebounds and blocks as she averages four rebounds and a block in her two appearances against Austin College and Abilene Christian.
Although primarily used as a defensive specialist in the past, under Denson, she plans to be a factor in the Lady Jackets’ offensive plans this season.
“I love to block shots, I love defending, but I never really had to play offense because the guards I have always been around have been solid,” Woodard said. “When I was in high school and both of my JUCOs, they never needed me for offense, they needed me for defense and that is what I bought into. This year, they’re looking at me to play both sides of the court and I’m learning how to incorporate my shot and post moves into their system … I’ve played basketball my entire life, but I have not played it like this.”