By Michael Padgett

Fort Myers was the first stronghold to fall on the 2007-2008 Mission.Eastern’s women’s basketball team won the Florida Gulf Coast Tournament over the weekend to begin the season 3-0. Senior guard Ashley Cazee claimed the tournament MVP award with 37 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

The Lady Colonels edged Valparaiso (0-5), 66-64 in the opening round of the tournament. Sophomore center Shavonne Jones led the team with 15 points and eight rebounds, while senior guard Crystal Jones added 14 points. Cazee also finished in double figures with 11 points.

In the championship game, Eastern overcame a slow start to defeat Florida Gulf Coast (1-2) 74-56.

“We really didn’t play as well as these girls can,” Coach Larry Joe Inman said. “But they really turned it on in the second half.”

Cazee’s three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions helped the Lady Colonels break away in the second half. Senior guards Niki Avery and Crystal Jones added 14 and 11 points, respectively, to Cazee’s 26.

The tournament victory comes on the heels of Eastern’s winning home opener against West Virginia Tech (2-6). In that game, four Lady Colonels scored in double figures to lead their team to victory, 90-59. Crystal Jones led the team with 16 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and six assists.

Eastern continues the mission this weekend in Monroe, La. when it plays in the Taco Bell Warhawk Classic. The Lady Colonels face the Lady Orange of Syracuse (2-1) and will be expected to improve.

“The level of competition will be tougher. our defense has to feed our offense,” Inman said of his team that has scored 89 points off of 72 turnovers in three games.

The Orange defeated Lehigh (1-3), 61-54, in their home opener. Sophomore guard Nicole Michael led Syracuse with 18 points. Freshman guard Erica Morrow leads the team with 13 points per game in the young season.

In the second game of the tournament, Eastern will face host Louisiana-Monroe (3-1) or Alabama State (0-1).

Cazee’s outstanding play in Florida last weekend earned her conference attention.

The Ohio Valley Conference named her Player of the Week, her first such honor in her fourth season.

Her 51 points this season also moves her past Laura Shelton, Candice Finley, Zoey Artist and Pam Garret into 16th place among Eastern’s all-time leading scorers.