Photo by Taylor Soule, sports editor
Excitement radiated from the Knapp Center on Thursday afternoon, inaugurating another Drake women’s basketball season.
Thursday’s press conference, however, cued new excitement thanks to new leadership, new expectations and a new system.
Practice begins today for the Bulldogs, marking Drake’s first go at a new system under first-time head coach Jennie Baranczyk. Besides Baranczyk, new assistant coaches Courtney Graham and David Lane join the Bulldogs’ 2012-13 leadership.
Drake’s leadership changes promise fast-paced play.
“Right now, we’re all really excited,” said sophomore guard Kyndal Clark. “We obviously start our official practice on Monday (Oct. 8). We’re excited to get on the court with the new coaches, officially, for three hours, where we can actually get in depth with what we’re doing. We’re all excited about the up-tempo game.”
The Bulldogs’ new tempo contrasts last season’s tempo, which slowed play to suit Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Rachael Hackbarth.
“I think we’ll really fit in well with that style of game this year just because we have a lot of guards as compared to last year,” Clark said. “We had Rachael (Hackbarth), so we just wanted to stop and slow it down and let her go one-on-one.”
Clark averaged 9.8 points per game last season, ranking second behind Hackbarth. Hackbarth’s departure boosts Drake’s expectations for Clark.
“This year, people will know to look for me,” Clark said. “I’m not just a freshman anymore. They know I’m here. They know what I can do, so it’s going to be harder to create shots, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and know that my team will be looking for me to score.”
Baranczyk has high hopes for the Bulldogs’ deep sophomore class, which includes Clark, redshirt sophomore Carly Grenfell, Liza Heap and forwards Symone Daniels and Cara Lutes.
“It’s an amazing thing when your sophomore class is the class that has probably more experience than any other class as a whole,” Baranczyk said. “So, what’s fun about that is, in the next couple years, you’re going to be really good and really experienced. But, the other fun part about that is, right now, we don’t know any better, and right now in the here and now, we’re going to have to be really good with young players.”
A new system means a new playbook for every Bulldog, regardless of experience.
“They’re all freshmen with our new system,” Baranczyk said. “It’s a new offensive system. It’s a new defensive system. But it’s a really fun system.”
With a speedy style of play in mind, three goals guide the Bulldogs.
“The three things we will not compromise on are the three things I said when I got hired,” Baranczyk said. “It’s going to be an up-tempo style of play. It’s going to be rebounding. It’s going to be communication.”
Before the young Bulldogs master their new playbook, though, boosting their confidence tops Baranczyk’s to-do list. Drake’s 2012-13 roster features four freshmen in guards Dilonna Johnson and Alexis Eckles, forward Ashley Bartow and center Emma Donahue. Junior guard Mary Pat Specht also joins Drake after playing two seasons at Johnson County Community College in Kansas.
“Some of the ‘growing pains’ are more of taking opportunities and taking risks,” Baranczyk said. “That’s something that with our players, that’s what they need to do. They need to take a risk. They’re not going to make every shot. No team does. That has been the biggest thing for us is to build confidence.”
Baranczyk echoed her young players’ uncertainty on Thursday.
“The biggest goal for us is to achieve our potential,” Baranczyk said. “Do I know what that potential is right now? I have an idea, but I’m not certain.”
Despite all the 2012-13 changes, Baranczyk and the Bulldogs have high expectations.
“I know our expectations are going to be higher than anyone else’s,” Baranczyk said. “We put high expectations on ourselves.”
Until Drake opens against Quincy on Nov. 2, Lutes looks to move forward with every practice.
“We’re really forward looking,” Lutes said. “We’re not looking back, but we’re really positive about what the season is to hold. We’re working hard. We’re improving a lot. We want to play a high-paced game, so we’re excited to make that adjustment and start the games rolling.”
With a high-paced system, high expectations and high excitement, the 2012-13 Bulldogs look to surprise the MVC faithful.
“I can bet we can make an impact in the Missouri Valley (Conference) this season,” Lutes said.