ATHENS — Elena Lovato is returning to Trinity Valley Community College.

Lovato, who spent this past season as an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, was named head women’s basketball coach at TVCC on Tuesday.

She replaces co-head coaches Michael and Kenya Landers, who resigned just days after leading the Lady Cardinals to their sixth national championship and third undefeated season to join the coaching staff at the University of Mississippi.

Lovato is no stranger to the Lady Cardinals basketball program. She began the 2009-10 season as an assistant coach at TVCC and served as interim head coach the final 11 games of the season. She led the Lady Cardinals to a 9-2 record during that time, which included conference and regional championships and a sixth-place finish at the national tournament.

“I am so excited,” Lovato said from her parents’ home in New Mexico on Tuesday afternoon. “I feel like I’m coming home — I am coming home.

“I am anxious to get on campus and meet with the players and see friends and fans again.”

Lovato, who indicated she had already started the recruiting process, said she would arrive in Athens late Wednesday afternoon. The college will hold a formal announcement of Lovato’s hiring Thursday at a time to be announced.

After finishing the 2009-10 season as interim head coach at TVCC, Lovato became the head coach at Grayson County Community College.

She led the Lady Vikings to the Region V championship and a 32-4 record and fifth-place finish at the national tournament. Two of the Grayson losses were to the Lady Cardinals, including a 79-72 decision in the national quarterfinals.

Lovato was named the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Junior College Coach of the Year, the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and the Region V Coach of the Year following Grayson County’s stellar season.

Before arriving at TVCC for her first tenure, she was an assistant at the University of Houston on Joe Curl’s staff in 2008-09. Prior to Houston, Lovato spent one season as a graduate assistant at Pittsburg State, in Pittsburg, Kan.

In addition to her experience at the collegiate level, Lovato also has coached at the high school level, serving as the head junior varsity and assistant varsity coach at Buffalo High School in Buffalo, Mo. While coaching at BHS, she also spent one year as a physical education teacher at Buffalo Prairie Middle School, earning 2007 Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year honors.

She also has coached and taught at Menaul High School in her hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., where she served as interim head girls basketball coach as well as assistant boys coach.

Lovato has experience in sales after working from December 2003 to March 2006 in private business.

As a player, Lovato started her collegiate career at West Texas A&M where she played for two seasons (1997-99) before transferring to Missouri Southern State to play her final two seasons, earning team captain and MIAA Newcomer of the Year honors in 1999-2000.

Following her collegiate career, she played in the Puerto Rican Women’s Pro Basketball League for two years. In 2001, she earned first-team all-league honors, averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds per game. In 2002, she averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game. In 2002, she also played for the Chicago Blaze of the National Women’s Basketball League (NWBL).

Lovato received her bachelor’s degree in university studies from Missouri Southern State in May 2005 and graduated from Pittsburg State with her master’s degree in physical education in May 2008.

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