For a winning program that finished 15-15 last season, good for seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Drake Bulldogs could not be more excited for a brand new start.
“I think that we are all excited to have a new season with new goals and expectations for ourselves,” said senior Kristin Turk. “We have learned from last season and we are ready to work hard and compete so that we can be a stronger team this year.”
The Bulldogs had a great beginning to last season. They raced off to an 11-5 start that included a home win against Sweet Sixteen-bound Iowa State University. However, injuries and inconsistent play derailed a promising squad that faltered down the stretch. A stretch of five consecutive losses and another one of three losses to close the season doomed the Bulldogs.
“We learned a lot from last year’s season about how important every part of a team really is,” said senior Ellie Ritscher. “We learned how every team is going to meet adversity at some point, and when that happens, the team has to come together and work together through those times.”
It was a season of growth for the young Bulldogs. But after going through some growing pains, there is optimism in what a healthy and mature squad can do in the Valley this season.
After all, the Bulldogs return the inside presence of junior center Rachael Hackbarth, the sharpshooting of junior Amber Wollschlager, and the team’s most dangerous offensive weapon, Turk.
Hackbarth and Turk are vital to Drake’s success in the Valley this season. Hackbarth can dominate the paint and control the boards, while Turk can light up the scoreboard and fire up her teammates.
In addition to that, Drake boasts a talented, guard-studded freshman class that’s compiled of Alyssa Marschner, Angela Christianson, Morgan Reid and Carly Grenfell. They will join junior Brittnye McSparron in the backcourt, who is coming off a disappointing injury-filled season.
“We have a strong class that is going to get a chance to play right away,” Turk said. “They are talented and have great work ethic. I have no doubt that Carly, Morgan, Angela and Alyssa will contribute to our overall team success.”
The Bulldogs lost two of its cornerstones from last year in seniors Monique’ Jones and Jordann Plummer. Jones was the defensive specialist and emotional leader for the Bulldogs, while Plummer, the team’s leading scorer last year, was Drake’s best playmaker off the dribble and a lethal three-point shooter.
“I think that we have a lot of women that are willing to step up on our team,” Turk said. “We have had a really good offseason and I think that although we may not be able to replace Monique’ and Jordann, we will be able to play hard and compete every day.”
The Bulldogs may be a relatively young squad, but they are experienced in the sense of the struggles they had to overcome last season. The adversity is something that Ritscher believes will help the entire program.
“I feel like this season is a great opportunity for Drake women’s basketball,” Ritscher said. “I know our women’s basketball family has learned a lot and we can’t wait to get back out there and compete this year.”
This year, the Bulldogs have packed a challenging non-conference schedule, looking to get in rhythm before the first conference game of the season, which comes Dec. 31 against Creighton. The Bulldogs will face Iowa State, Iowa, Wisconsin and North Texas, among others.
“We have a non-conference schedule filled with good, quality programs, as well as being in the Missouri Valley Conference that is very tough every year,” Ritscher said. “If we continue working hard and growing as a team, we have great opportunities for a successful season.”
As long as the team sticks together and continues to pull through like it has learned to do in the past, the Bulldogs are in for quite a season.
“When we learn to buy into our team values, success should follow,” Turk said. “I want this team to have a great season, which will happen if we work hard every day.”
Key Returning Players
2009 Stats: 13.4 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 41.6 percent three-point field goals
2010 Outlook: Turk returns as Drake’s most potent offensive threat. The senior was second on the team in scoring last season, and is a deadly weapon from beyond the arc. Her toughness on the court has earned her teammates’ and Head Coach Amy Stephens’ respect. Look for Turk to continue her lethal shooting, and always as the player who leaves her heart on the floor.
Rachael Hackbarth2009 Stats: 12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, team-high 19 blocked shots
2010 Outlook: Hackbarth returns as the Bulldogs’ most experienced low-post player. As a sophomore last season, Hackbarth made huge strides in her game and looks to continue improving into one of the best forwards in the Missouri Valley. One thing Stephens will hope Hackbarth cuts down on is turnovers; she led the team with 102 last season.
Photos: File photos