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Hackbarth serious contender for MVC Player of the Year honors

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Step by step, game by game and basket by basket, senior Rachael Hackbarth continues to climb the Drake women’s basketball all-time scoring ladder.

A ladder, however, cannot stand without a sturdy support system.

For Hackbarth, her teammates are just that support system. Even amid a record-breaking individual season, Hackbarth’s team-oriented mindset remains forefront.

Averaging 18.9 points per game alongside 10.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists, Hackbarth is in the hunt for the Valley’s highest individual prize: the Jackie Stiles Player of the Year award, given to the top player in the Missouri Valley Conference.  Though that honor presents an exciting possibility, Hackbarth wishes it included her teammates.

“I wish it could be more of a team thing than an individual,” Hackbarth said.  “It’s all connected, teammates screening well for me and giving me the ball.  It definitely feels more like a team honor than an individual honor.”

After a stunning 32-point, 12-rebound performance against Indiana State on Sunday, Hackbarth moved past Jordann Plummer and Connie Newlin on Drake’s all-time scoring list. Her 1,359 career points mark the culmination of her time as a Bulldog: four years of leadership, four years of hard work and four years of teamwork.

“She has a huge role on our basketball team,” Drake head coach Amy Stephens said. “Rachael leads by example. She’s one of our hardest workers in practice everyday.  She’s a great teammate, she’s encouraging and she’s positive.  Rachael isn’t afraid to step up.”

Following last season’s departure of Drake standout Kristin Turk, Hackbarth knew she needed to make critical plays in 2011-12.

“My teammates look to me to do that as far as being a strong inside presence in the paint,” she said.

Though the final stanza of Hackbarth’s senior season is just underway, Stephens looks to her for continued post-play prowess.

“What we need from her is to be consistent and to be a great leader and a fundamental post player,” she said.  “The more fundamental she is, the better she’ll handle it.”

Both on game day and in practice, Hackbarth keeps her eyes on the conference’s coveted team prize, an MVC championship.

“We just want to continue to reach to be in the upper half of the conference,” she said. “Our main goal is to compete for a championship.”

At 10-8 overall and 4-3 in the MVC, Drake sits in sixth place.  Tomorrow’s battle with Bradley kicks off the first of four straight home games for the Bulldogs, and Stephens said that she knows how critical a top tier finish is for Hackbarth’s player-of-the-year prospects.

“For her to get that award, our team is going to have to finish in the top two or three (in the MVC),” Stephens said.  “She has to continue to be consistent to get that award because there are a lot of great players in our league. Our team success is going to play a factor whether she has a shot for that. Team success affects individual honors. You have to have individual numbers, but you also have to have team success.  Players of the year lead their team to success.”

In a season characterized by ups and downs, heart-pounding finishes and last-minute losses, one memory stands out for Hackbarth.

On Dec. 11, the Bulldogs traveled to Madison’s Kohl Center to take on Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin.  Just 74 miles away from her hometown of Colgate, Hackbarth contributed 20 points en route to a 65-54 Drake victory.

Surrounded by her family in the stands and her family on the court, the Wisconsin win marked a magical and, of course, a team-oriented moment for Hackbarth.

“It was cool to play at home my senior year and have my whole family there,” she said.  “That was really special.”

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