Story and Photo by Taylor Soule
She knows where to find the staplers and paperclips in the Ron Buel Basketball Suite. She knows where to find the Drake athletics administration in the Bell Center.
She knows where to find confidence — in experience, in teamwork and in leadership.
A year later, the Bulldogs boast nine returning players, newfound unity and three senior leaders.
“When you have that time together to learn and grow, better things are going to continue to come,” Baranczyk said. “You can challenge each other a little bit more, but you challenge each other in a growth opportunity. That’s where we’ve been going.”
When the Bulldogs open the 2013-14 campaign with an exhibition game against Dubuque on Nov. 1, they hope that growth radiates even in their trademark style of play.
Though Baranczyk said the Bulldogs will maintain their trademark blend of up-tempo pace, rebounding and communication, they’ve added a new element to the Drake mix: improved decision-making.
“Our decision-making is much better,” Baranczyk said. “I think we do a really good job, almost to a fault, of trying to set each other up. Part of that, I think, is sometimes you have to be the one who takes that shot.”
Unselfish play is practically second nature for Drake. Even in goal setting, the Bulldogs maintain their team-oriented mindset.
“I haven’t really thought of it individually,” said sophomore forward and guard Ashley Bartow. “They’re more team-oriented (goals). Just getting to know each other better, just getting each other the best shots. The individual things will come within the team. I’m looking forward to that.”
Despite a small team with 11 players, Drake boasts a deep, experienced lineup that includes a 2013 all-conference performer and two standout freshmen.
Junior guard Kyndal Clark returns as the Bulldogs’ top scorer.
The 2013 All-Missouri Valley Conference Second Team and All-Defensive Team selection Clark led Drake with 14.6 points per game last season. Clark also paced Drake with a team-high 77 steals in 2012-13.
Baranczyk said Clark has worked to complement her on-court skills with improved leadership off the court.
“Being a vocal leader is not necessarily in her DNA, but she understands that’s what our team needs and has really stepped up in that avenue,” Baranczyk said. “I think she also has the ability, and the team knows that, to hit big shots, and not just to hit them but to take them. There’s a pressure with that that doesn’t come lightly.”
Baranczyk will look to her versatile roster to relieve some of that pressure.
Senior forward Morgan Reid is only 142 rebounds away from a spot in Drake’s all-time Top-10. Reid averaged 8.2 boards and 11.3 points per game in the 2012-13 campaign.
Behind the arc, Drake will look to redshirt junior guard Carly Grenfell. Grenfell drained 48 3-pointers last season en route to an average of 6.9 points per game.
With only 11 players on the Drake roster, Baranczyk said she expects the two Bulldog freshmen to see significant playing time.
Freshman Lizzy Wendell led Blue Springs High School in Blue Springs, Mo., to four straight state tournament berths. She earned back-to-back First-Team All-State nods as a junior and senior.
Freshman guard Caitlin Ingle comes to Drake from a standout career at Southeast Polk High School in Pleasant Hill, where she led the Rams to a Class 5-A State Championship as a senior.
“I think there’s big expectations from our freshmen, both of them. Part of that is they both come from winning programs that know what it takes to win,” Baranczyk said.
“Obviously, with Caitlin’s success over at Southeast Polk High School, taking a program that was a subpar program to a state championship team her senior year. She has the gift and the ability to really make other people around her better, and I think that fits with what we do extremely well.”
Drake welcomes another newcomer in Loyola University, which replaced Creighton in the MVC this year. With three-time Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes at Loyola’s helm, Baranczyk expects a “unique challenge” from the Wolves.
“Nobody knows them, so I think that will help them in a way,” Baranczyk said. “They have a new coach, obviously, in Sheryl Swoopes, who has only ever won, so I think that’s going to be a unique challenge for us.”
New challenge aside, the 2013-14 Bulldogs have embraced their newfound confidence and experience.
“Everyone feels a little more comfortable with the system,” said senior guard Alyssa Marschner. “We have more options. We understand our offense better and even the defense. We have more chemistry together, and we’re more confident and trusting in our coaching staff.