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Running anchors Drake

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“Is this gross? Is it bruising?” asks Stephanie Running of the protruding bump on her brow. It’s red and purple. Clearly bruising. Running rolls her eyes — yet another battle wound. She doesn’t even know what happened. “Maybe an elbow? Maybe I bumped heads with someone?”

But she knows it happened in the paint, where the 6-foot-2 forward, and sometimes center, will be spending most of her time this season.

She’s the only senior on the roster, though, so her role will extend far beyond grabbing boards and scoring easy baskets.

“She needs to be a leader for us. She understands people – people naturally gravitate toward her,” said head coach Jennie Baranczyk, who is beginning her first season at Drake. “I think she’s really understanding the true heartbeat of this team.”

The graduation of  the MVC Player of the Year and leading scorer and rebounder, Rachael Hackbarth, left questions for the Bulldogs upon the start of the new season. But this year’s game plan is not necessarily to “replace” Hackbarth.

“No one can fill her shoes,” said Running, “but if we all step up our play, thinking, ‘I’m gonna get two more rebounds,’ or ‘I’m gonna score four more points,’ we’ll be a really well-rounded team, and we won’t need to fill her spot.”

And it will be primarily Running this season who will be a major instigator in making sure that her younger teammates do exactly that: step up their game.

“A part of my role is being a leader and an encourager since I am an upbeat and energetic person,” she said. “I need to be there for my teammates.

On the court, Running’s versatility will be essential to the Bulldogs’ success. She’s looking to increase her presence in as many offensive and defensive aspects as possible. As a junior last year, Running started 18 out of 24 games played and averaged 4.4 rebounds and 5.8 points per game. This time around, Running is well aware that she will need to look to score more. Attacking the basket has been one of her major focuses at practice.

“She’s a versatile player,” Baranczyk said. “We’ve been focusing a lot on her low post game, but we’re also giving her some freedom. She can catch and shoot, she can pass, and she’s done a great job of helping our younger players really understand what we’re looking for.”

There are four freshmen on the roster this year, but Running said that their adjustment to the team has been smooth due to the tight-knit bonds that have carried over from last season among all the players. They have dinner together every night, they spend their weekends together, they’re a “family,” Running said, and Running sees herself in that “motherly” role.

“Seniors are always someone you want to look up to,” she said. “Even though a lot of things are new this year, I do try to set an example so the freshmen have someone to look up to.”

Running has high expectations for the season. An MVC championship is at the top of the list, and ultimately, Running hopes that the team can find their way into the NCAA tournament. “This is my last chance,” she said, “so we gotta go all out.”

The Bulldogs will kick off the season on Friday at home against Quincy in an exhibition game. Barancyzk expects Running to have a “significant impact” on the team’s dynamic.

“I’m really proud of her for stepping up and taking her role as the only senior very seriously,” Barancyzk said.  “It’s not easy to be the only player from your class. She’s handling it with grace and confidence.”


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