Dale Neal begins his
42nd year of coaching and his 18th season at the helm of the Lady Lion
basketball program, having compiled a record of 444-151 and a winning
percentage of .746 at FHU.
Few programs in the NAIA
have seen the levels of success and consistency that Neal has brought to
Freed-Hardeman in the last 15 years. Over that time frame, the Lady Lions are one of only two programs to
have won at least 20 games and competed in the NAIA National Tournament every
year. Only three schools can claim
each accomplishment by itself.
The Lady Lion basketball program instantly turned around when Neal came to
Freed-Hardeman. In his first season
in 1995, the Lady Lions finished a then school-record 21-9. Two years later, the team set a new
record by winning 26 games and making the school's first ever appearance in the
NAIA National Tournament and winning its first game, 76-63 over East Central
In 1999, the Lady Lions
again won 26 games and made a Cinderella run through the national tournament,
knocking off No. 2 Wayland Baptist (Texas) University and No. 7 University of
Auburn at Montgomery to reach the Fab Four. The dream of a national championship ended there with a loss
to eventual champion Oklahoma City, but the deep run still helped put FHU
women's basketball on the national radar for years to come.
The program took another
step forward in the 2002-03 season. With a freshman-heavy lineup, the Lady Lions won 30 games for the first
time in school history. The
season, however, finished with a loss in the TranSouth Conference title game
and a first-round exit in the national tournament leaving Neal and his
still-young team more determined entering the next season.
That next season brought
about more history at Freed-Hardeman. After five runner-up finishes in the TranSouth Conference tournament in
Neal's tenure, the Lady Lions finally broke through and brought a championship
banner to the Sports Center with a dominating 81-63 win over Union (Tenn.)
University. It was the first of
three consecutive conference championships for FHU.
The Lady Lions, meanwhile,
advanced to the Elite Eight of the national tournament in each of those three
seasons and set a new school record for wins in a season after going 32-3 in
Coach Neal was named the TranSouth Conference's Coach of the Year each season
during that remarkable four-year stretch that saw FHU post a combined record of
123-21 overall and 49-7 in conference play.
Two years later, the Lady
Lions almost cracked the 30-win barrier again in the midst of another run
through the NAIA National Tournament, which saw them make their second trip to
the Fab 4 after winning three games in fewer than 48 hours.
In the 2009-10 season,
Freed-Hardeman added another first to its record of accomplishments when the
Lady Lions defeated No. 1 Union (Tenn.) University in the finals of the
TranSouth Conference tournament, marking the first time that any FHU team had
defeated a team ranked No. 1 nationally. It was also the first time in conference history that the top-seeded
team did not win the conference tournament.
Even better things were to
follow in 2010-11 as the Lady Lions went 27-9 and made their third trip to the
NAIA Fab Four behind the play of Meribeth Boehler, who was named the NAIA
National Player of the Year. The
Lady Lions also handed a No. 1 ranked team another loss, defeating Union on FHU's
home floor in February. Freed-Hardeman's postseason run ended in the national semifinals at the
hands of eventual champion Asuza Pacific (Calif.) University.
Neal holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harding University ('69) and a Master
of Physical Education degree from the University of Nebraska ('80). He coached the men's basketball team at
York College in Nebraska for 11 years, where his teams combined record was
234-96 (.709), before coming to FHU. Neal received seven coach of the year awards, including an NJCAA Region
IX Coach of the Year award, while at York.
Neal and his wife, Kathy, reside in Henderson and have four children and 13