Feb. 20, 2006
By: Lauren Williams, FSU Sports Information
These days, Florida State’s LaQuinta Neely has a lot of planning to do. The senior guard is preparing to play her final games at FSU. The elementary education major just completed her last requirements to graduate in April. The Laurens, S.C., native is also planning a wedding for September of this year.
Juggling all three hats has been a challenge for Neely, who seemingly takes it all in stride. She has relied on her experience to get her through such things as a season-ending injury, the death of one of her teammates and the rigors of playing in the top women’s basketball conference in the nation.
“You’re going to have ups and downs in life,” explained Neely. “You’re going to go through some things. Your character and how you remain strong helps you out a lot. I don’t think there’s anything I would change even though there were tough times. That’s what has made me into the person I am today.”
In five years, Neely has provided a solid defensive effort and served as a great floor leader in head coach Sue Semrau’s system. She is a player whose effort does not show up on the stat sheet all of the time or can be measured by the length of her media guide bio. Instead, her contributions are seen through her critical play in tough situations and her ability to be a leader on the floor.
As a freshman, Neely saw action in 26 games for the Seminoles, averaging 11.3 minutes, 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. Her numbers almost doubled in her sophomore season, improving to 6.3 points, 4.7 rebound and 3.0 assists per game while playing at the point and as a wing.
Just two months into what was expected to be her breakout year, Neely tore her ACL in practice, forcing her to sit out the remainder of the 2003-04 season. While most student-athletes would have been saddled with the injury, Neely remained active during her rehab, helping her teammates from the sidelines and during practices. If she could not be on the floor, she was still going to make her presence felt.
Then came another blow to the FSU program. Freshman center Ronalda Pierce, one of the top newcomers for the Seminoles during her rookie campaign, passed away suddenly at the age of 19. Everyone involved in the program felt her passing, including Neely, who was awarded the first ever Ronalda Pierce Heart Award, given to the person on the team that represented courage, heart, determination, growth and joy.
“Definitely the hardest thing to get over was Ronalda’s passing,” explained the seemingly quiet guard, who still shows a little emotion about the subject. “That had a big effect on our team.”
Neely and her teammates used her memory to fuel one of the best seasons on record for the Seminoles, winning 20 games for the first time since the 1990-91 season. The players wore #55 on their shoes to honor Pierce and used that as motivation for one of the most successful seasons in FSU women’s basketball history.
Off of the court, Neely has had the dual role of finishing her coursework for graduation and planning a September wedding. In early December, her fiancé Matt Wiggins proposed to her upon her return home from a road trip.
“My birthday was the day before we played at Tulsa and when we got back, he had a birthday cake for me,” explained Neely. “Then he brought out a graduation cake. Then he brought out a cake that said engagement on it. So I looked at it and said, `Thanks,’ but I wasn’t sure for what. Then he got down on his knee and proposed to me.”
The fall semester was extremely busy for Neely, who has started 20 of 23 game this season. The senior captain spent most of her day as a student-teacher at Gilchrist Elementary School in Tallahassee from September to December.
“It was a lot of fun student-teaching,” said Neely. “Besides the hours between here and basketball, it was great. I really enjoyed it. (Now that it is over) I miss the daily interactions with the children and their smiling faces. I will always remember when we went on our field trips or interacted with the students outside the classroom because that is what made it great.”
With the year coming to a close, Neely will have many opportunities to reflect on her time at FSU.
“I’ll miss my teammates of course but also other FSU student-athletes,” said Neely. “I’ll miss the basketball trips to Italy and the Virgin Islands. School-wise, I’ll miss the privileges you get as a student.”
If you asked what the team will miss, I am sure Neely’s presence will be immeasurable.