The recent success of the Sam Houston State women's basketball program is attributed to mental toughness, focus and belief in the system, coaches say.

In the past, the Bearkats struggled in the win column, totaling only nine victories from 2007 to 2009. Prior to last season, the women's team had not made the Southland Conference tournament since 2004. Even then, Sam Houston entered the tournament with an unflattering overall record of 7-21. 

In some ways, the Kats became accustomed to losing. Sophomore forward Sequeena Thomas noticed this before she ever stepped on the court.

"I looked at their record and thought, 'that can't be right,'" she said.

Thomas was a star, first at Rockwall-Heath High School where she averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game as a junior. Then, as a senior she earned first-team All-Area honors for Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa.

Thomas admits she wasn't an immediate success on the basketball court. After her mother remarried and family relocated to Texas, Thomas inherited three stepbrothers who she says exposed her to sports.

"I started playing in the fourth grade," she said. "I was really fast. That was probably my only positive for basketball. I couldn't shoot. I was horrible."

But she was a relentless competitor, which is what made last season such an adjustment for her. She played limited minutes and more importantly, sat on the bench during critical moments. She was even told by one senior that she and the other freshmen wouldn't be the reason the team won or loss.

However, a lot has changed within a year's time. Sam Houston, starting four sophomores and one junior, is averaging double-digit victories against Southland Conference opponents this season, with one of the best conference starts in ever. Nicknamed "Queen" by her teammates, Thomas is the Bearkats' leading rebounder and second leading scorer, averaging 14.9 points and 10.5 rebounds.

More than anything, Thomas represents the general bravado of this team. She's a player who expects to win, just like fellow sophomores Chanice Smith and Clarke Davis.

When asked about the change in the team's personality, Smith said the group this season is different.

"Just a new mentality, more focus. Just more willing to fight, if we're down to come back and, you know, pull out a win," Smith said. "There's more videos, more intensity in practice. They're making us compete against each other to make us better."

The women's squad is a tight-knit group. When the Kats traveled to face University of Texas-Arlington on Jan. 12, the common interest the night before the game was watching the season premiere of The Game sitcom, now broadcasted on Black Entertainment Television. Anticipation for The Game had grown over a two-year span, when the show was cancelled for contractual reasons in 2009.

But the Kats' hotel didn't have BET. To understate it, the ladies were disappointed.

"We were mad," Thomas said. "When we got to the hotel, the first thing everybody did was check, 'Ok do we have BET, we don't have BET'."

Fortunately, Smith's family lives in the area and the team was able to watch the show in their media room. The entire team was there.

Leading scorer Britni Martin describes the team as "easy to fit in with" and "fun-loving." But there's a balance between fun and focus for the Kats.

The day after watching The Game premiere, Sam Houston started its streak of double digit conference victories with a 14-point defeat over UTA.

The Bearkats want to become the juggernaut of the league and they have set goals for themselves. A chase for a Southland Conference Championship ring is all the ladies are talking about. Thomas is one of the emotional and vocal leaders, as well as a game-changer. Change is what the Bearkats have needed for so long.