Photo: Connor McCourtney
After a 15-15 season that saw the Drake women’s basketball squad lose seniors Ellie Ritscher and MVC leading scorer Kristin Turk to graduation, junior Rachael Hackbarth knows that she is going to have to step up next season if the Bulldogs plan on having a good year.
“Well, with Turk and Ellie being gone, those are big shoes to fill,” Hackbarth said. “I need to continue to lead by example and to try and be more of a verbal leader.”
So far, Hackbarth has let her game do all the talking. She led the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding at 8.1 rebounds per game, and she was the team’s second leading scorer at 14.6 points per game.
Hackbarth will also be the central component of Drake’s offense next year as the team loses Turk, who averaged 20.0 points per game.
Turk was a constant threat on the perimeter and that helped to free up Hackbarth inside. Without her, the Bulldogs will need to communicate to avoid double-teams and will need to be effective from the perimeter.
That being said, Hackbarth’s individual success might depend on how much the Bulldogs can come together as a team.
“Our team’s success and the type of year that Rachael’s going to have often depends a lot on her teammates,” assistant coach Todd Voss said. “Because as a post player, you have to be surrounded by players that can also score, that can also stretch the defense by scoring from the perimeter so she has faith to operate.”
But if the last three years have been any indication of how Hackbarth continues to grow and embrace new challenges, Bulldog fans shouldn’t worry. She is ready for the task.
“It’s fun as a coach to look back and see how far Rachael has come as a player in so many areas,” Voss said. “The last three, four weeks of the regular season, the consistency in her play showed that she had taken her game to a new level.”
Hackbarth has matured as a person and as a player in her three years at Drake. She is polite and soft-spoken with the media, but friendly and engaging. On the court, Hackbarth is as strong and physical as anyone in the league and practices with tremendous intensity, constantly high-fiving her teammates and getting excited every time someone makes a play.
Her moral integrity and strong character are directly connected to something that is very important in Hackbarth’s everyday life: her faith.
“She’s got a great heart and off the court I know her faith is something that is important to her, and that shows by the way she carries herself,” Voss said. “She’s grown a lot. She’s become a very good leader.”
Not only is Hackbarth a great leader, but she is also one of the most imposing players in the Valley. Her teammates say that they are all aware of the kind of dominance that she can bring onto the court.
“Rachael is going to be huge, from a leadership standpoint, on and off the court,” Turk said. “She was playing extremely well at the end of the season and if she has a good offseason, she could own the Valley next year.”
By the looks of the way the Bulldogs finished the 2011 season, going 6-3 in their last nine regular season games, Hackbarth said she believes they can learn from how they came together as a team and that the squad can use that chemistry for next season.
“We started playing for each other. At times earlier this season, I think people would try to put the game into their own hands,” Hackbarth said. “Our chemistry kept growing and we were playing for each other.”