June 28, 2013

Long before the SMU women’s basketball team brought them together again, Keena Mays and Alisha Filmore shared the court for one summer in middle school as members of the Lady Rhythm in the Amateur Athletic Union basketball league.

Alisha Filmore

Alisha Filmore

After that summer, Filmore attended Mansfield Summit High School in Arlington, where she won a 5A state championship her senior year in 2009 and signed to play basketball at SMU. The year-younger Mays attended archrival Mansfield Timberview High School. She guided the Wolves to a 4A state championship in 2010 and went on to sign at Division I Kansas. During the three years that their high school careers overlapped, Mays and Filmore went toe-to-toe on the court as their teams dueled once each year for neighborhood supremacy.

“Our high schools were only five minutes away from each other, which is what made our schools’ rivalry so strong,” Mays says. “We were all friends.”

Filmore chimes in: “If I lost, I knew I’d have to put up with players from the other team coming up to me for the rest of the year and saying, ‘Hey, remember when I hit that 3-pointer in your face?’”

As it turns out, the pair would share the court again, but this time shoulder-to-shoulder as teammates. Mays, who played her freshman season and part of her sophomore season at Kansas, started feeling homesick and made the switch to SMU, where she could be closer to family. After sitting out a year due to transfer rules, she started her collegiate career anew in mid-December of the 2012-13 season and sparked a run that carried the Mustangs to the Conference USA regular season championship and a berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

Keena Mays

Keena Mays

She and Filmore led the Mustangs in scoring and finished with all-conference selections. Mays was named Conference USA player of the year, becoming only the third player in team history to earn the honor. Filmore received a second-team all-conference nod and the Conference USA Spirit of Service Award.

The players who once shared the Lady Rhythm jersey put together one spectacular season of “greatest hits” that neither will forget. Mays took the court for the first time on Dec. 17 against Louisiana-Monroe and notched a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. After losing two of their next three games, the Mustangs reeled off 10 straight victories, nine of them in conference.

The run was highlighted by a triple-overtime victory Feb. 7 against Alabama-Birmingham. Mays hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into its final overtime period, and then topped it with another buzzer-beater from the right elbow to win the game. Filmore had fouled out in the third overtime and became “the biggest cheerleader known to man,” she says.

“I knew if we’d gone to the fourth overtime without Alisha, we would’ve been in trouble,” Mays says. “She grabbed me afterward, and I was like a dead fish.”

Head coach Rhonda Rompola ’83, who picked up her 400th career victory in the Mustangs’ win against Tulsa on Feb. 21, now has a 401-263 record in 22 seasons at SMU. She says the team’s sizzling season was largely due to excellent chemistry. Twelve of the 14 players on SMU’s roster played high school basketball in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and many of them knew each other before they ever set foot on campus. Some had been friends and some had even been rivals, but they quickly learned how to play well together when they put on the SMU uniform.

Coach Rhonda Rompola during her 400th career victory Feb. 21 against Tulsa.

Coach Rhonda Rompola during her 400th career victory Feb. 21 against Tulsa.

“The best way I can put it is that this team bickers like sisters,” Rompola says. “And that’s a compliment. They have each other’s backs, and even sometimes give each other a hard time. But at the end of the day they’re sisters.”

The future is bright for Rompola’s SMU squad. Filmore, who was the team’s captain and vocal leader, was the Mustangs’ only senior. Mays will be a senior next season, as will Akil Simpson, who was a second-team all-conference selection last year. Although the Mustangs finished the 2012-13 season with losses in the first round of the C-USA tournament and the WNIT, they will be joining the newly formed American Athletic Conference in 2013-14.

“I would trade in all the honors and awards if we could have won the Conference USA Tournament and gone to the NCAA Tournament,” Mays says. “If the awards come, that’s great, but I just want to win next year.”

– Chris Dell ’11