Second. That’s where the seventh-seeded Bulldogs finished after making an improbable run to the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Championship.
After losing to Creighton 53-38 in the 2012 MVC Championship, the Bulldogs look to repeat as the Valley’s dark horse in 2013.
With a new season, new leadership, new players and a new system, the Bulldogs and the Bulldog faithful alike face new questions.
Who will pace the Bulldogs without MVC Player of the Year Rachael Hackbarth? How will the Bulldogs adjust to a new system? Where will Drake fall in the MVC standings?
Though uncertainties loom, the 2012-2013 Bulldogs won’t worry yet about standings, statistics or starters. Instead, learning a new system under new leadership tops their to-do list. Oct. 8 marked Drake’s inaugural practice under the new “up-tempo” system courtesy of first-year head coach Jennie Baranczyk.
“I don’t know if we’re really to the point of setting goals for this specific team,” Baranczyk said. “More so, we talk about the goals in the program, and it goes back to the three things we won’t compromise – on up-tempo style, rebounding, communication. So, right now, those are our goals, and that’s all we need to focus on, those three things.”
Drake’s overhauled system contrasts the tempo set by former head coach Amy Stephens. The 2011-2012 Bulldogs slowed play to allow Hackbarth to score inside. Without Hackbarth, though, the Bulldogs will rely on their versatility.
“Our offense isn’t just going to depend on a low-block post player,” Baranczyk said. “They’re going to have to be versatile, and that’s the strength of our team.”
The well-rounded Bulldogs return four starters. Sophomore guard Kyndal Clark is Drake’s top returning scorer after averaging 9.8 points per game as a freshman.
The Bulldogs return a defensive powerhouse in junior forward Morgan Reid. Reid tallied 39 steals last season.
Drake’s roster features a sole senior in forward and center Stephanie Running, who led the Bulldogs with a .870 shooting percentage last season.
Five newcomers complete the Bulldogs’ new roster.
Drake’s lineup features four freshmen in guards Dilonna Johnson and Alexis Eckles, forward Ashley Bartow and center Emma Donahue. Junior guard Mary Pat Specht also joins the Bulldogs after playing two seasons at Johnson County Community College in Kansas.
Baranczyk expects several Bulldogs to pace Drake’s inside attack.
“Stephanie Running, obviously, as our lone senior and leader, she definitely is going to have to step up inside and score,” Baranczyk said. “I think Morgan Reid is getting more comfortable down low. I think (sophomore forward and center) Cara Lutes is getting more comfortable. I think you’ll see a lot from our freshman post player, Emma Donahue. (Sophomore forward) Symone Daniels is back. I mean, there are a lot of different options.”
To reach MVC-readiness, the versatile but inexperienced Bulldogs must mature quickly.
“We have an entire team of freshmen,” Baranczyk said. “It’s not just the new players.”
As the Bulldog freshmen adjust to new demands, a new system and a new campus, Baranczyk praised their early strides.
“It’s always an adjustment, and it’s always a bigger adjustment than any freshman ever realizes,” Baranczyk said. “But, I think the more and more we’ve gone, the more and more they’ve learned and the more and more they can see the bigger picture.”
Before that “bigger picture” takes shape against MVC foes, the Bulldogs must adapt to the new system.
“I think that we are making adjustments really well,” Running said. “We’re just making adjustments, and we’re starting to figure it out. We’re getting really good chemistry, better flow in our offense. Our rebounding is getting better. Overall, we’re making good improvements in every part of the game.”
Though questions linger after Hackbarth’s departure, Running dismissed any doubts.
“If we all step up our game a little bit, it will be a more even and well-rounded team, and we’ll be just fine,” Running said.
Drake opens the season in an exhibition contest against Quincy at 7:05 p.m. on Friday at the Knapp Center. Despite uncertainty about standings, statistics and starters, the Bulldogs boast new leadership, a new system and new zest.
“It’s just going to be fun to watch,” Running said. “We’re going to be up-tempo. I think you’ll be able to see how much we love each other, we love Drake, and we love basketball.”