November 2, 2022
Erika Lang-Montgomery aims to sustain the success at Longwood
After a historic season under Rebecca Tillett, Erika Lang-Montgomery takes over the Lancers
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Longwood seemed to elevate the profile of women’s basketball in the Big South last season. Under the direction of Rebecca Tillett, the Lancers trounced top-seeded Campbell in the conference tournament in Charlotte to appear in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Then, in Raleigh’s Reynolds Coliseum, Longwood beat Mount St. Mary’s in the First Four. Despite losing to N.C. State in the next round, the victory gave Longwood a platform.
Many folks learned where Farmville, Virginia, was for the first time. And they learned about Tillett – who used her platform to advocate for gender equality in college basketball and highlight the existing disparities. Then, in the offseason, Tillett was lured away to the Atlantic 10 to rebuild Saint Louis. And she took four Longwood players with her.
Tillett pulled Longwood out of college basketball’s cellar and made it relevant. In just four seasons, the Lancers went from two wins to a ticket to March Madness.
Longwood replaced Tillett with Erika Lang-Montgomery, who had last been an assistant at her alma mater, the University of Florida.
Lang-Montgomery’s challenge is now this: How does she sustain the success that Longwood achieved under Tillett while putting her own stamp on the program?
“Longwood had an amazing season. Our program made history last year. So, I feel my task is to come in and maintain that level of excellence,” Lang-Montgomery told The Next. “Just helping our players understand that you’ve got to have a mindset of intentionality every day to come to practice to get better. How can we get better each day? And I think that is the blueprint to building and sustaining what has happened.”
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Because of the offseason departures, Lang-Montgomery was forced to start reshaping the program in her vision right away. Longwood returns just three of its top eight scorers from last season. The Lancers brought in five transfers and one freshman.
The Lancers have nine upperclassmen, so it’s a veteran-laden group. The hurdle is much of them don’t have experience playing together.
Lang-Montgomery hopes to lean on the returners to set the tone.
“They bring with them the mindset. You know, they won a championship. So, I can learn something from them,” she said. “It’s not like I’m teaching them how to do it. Now, let’s put it together with our new people. Let’s make our own mark and build our own legacy.”
Lang-Montgomery is no stranger to calling the shots and running her own women’s basketball program. For 10 seasons, she was the head coach at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. When she left in 2019 to return to her alma mater, she was the program’s all-time winningest coach and had helped the program transition from the NAIA ranks to the Division II Peach Belt Conference in the NCAA. Flagler went 39-17 in her final two seasons and she was named the conference’s Coach of the Year in the 2018-19 season.
At Florida, she helped the Gators reach the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2016. The Gators are one of three different programs Lang-Montgomery has helped guide to the tourney.
“I went back to Florida to help my alma mater get over the hump, so to speak,” she said. “We had an amazing season, and I felt the timing was right to pursue an opportunity.”
While Lang-Montgomery enjoyed being at her alma mater, she also wanted to be a head coach again. When she looked at the landscape of openings last offseason, Longwood stuck out.
“It was a great opportunity. When I looked at the opening, it had all the things in place to continue to build a championship. And it was great that they had already just done it,” Lang-Montgomery said. “So, I felt like I could come in and sustain and continue to build from there.”
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Longwood’s investment in basketball includes a sparkling new arena – the $15 million Joan Perry Brock Center – that will open in the spring of 2023.
For Lang-Montgomery, the biggest difference between Division II and I for a head coach is the number of people. At Flagler, her staff meetings sometimes included just one person. All she had to do was spin around in her desk chair.
“The environment is a little bit differently,” Lang-Montgomery said. “Now, there’s three more coaches, a (director of basketball operations), a strength coach… Being able to coach at the Division I level is amazing.”
In this transition, Longwood and Lang-Montgomery will be tested right away. The Lancers’ non-conference slate includes three ACC programs and five CAA schools; in all, three squads that went dancing last March. Lang-Montgomery inherited some of those games but put her own spin on the schedule too.
Simply put: It’s tough by design.
“This is what we got and we’ll take it one game at a time,” Lang-Montgomery said. “We are ready for the challenge. We can’t take days off.”