Written by Andrew Ottoson Tuesday, 28 November 2006 18:00Tabor College photo
The 2006-07 Tabor College women's basketball team: back row (from left): student assistant Stephanie Stuber, managers Rachel Suderman and Cherise Stanghor, Erin Runge, Shayley Scherrer, Amanda Krier, Jenny Gaskell, Dana Champlin, Cheri Mount, assistant coaches Jill Hein and Landon Jordan, and head coach Rusty Allen; front row: Cassondra Huxman, Stacie Herman, Chelsea Malone, Stephanie Silvas, Cindy Wertenberger, Donya Anderson, Emily Vogts, Nicole Ellis, Amanda McDonald, Kristen Allen, Andrea Robinson and Kirsten Watson.
With the graduation of two-time NAIA all-American Erica Hemmert, and with former four-year starter Jill Hein serving in a new role as one of coach Rusty Allen's assistants, the women's basketball team at Tabor College might look a little bit different this year.
"Erica was a great player on the court-she could shoot, she could drive, she could rebound, she was determined, and she was honored for it with numerous awards," Allen said. "Erica stood out because of the accolades, but Jill was like that, too."
Even though some of the names and faces are different, there are a few things about the team that will not change any time soon.
"I don't know if expectation is the right word, but our unequivocal goal is to win the conference championship and to play in the national tournament," Allen said.
In regular season conference play, Tabor has gone 35-1 over the past two years. Although the team has fared less well in the post-season conference tournament, the Bluejays have won first-round games in the NAIA tournament for two consecutive years.
"Erica, like many of the players we've graduated the last two years, brought something of a legacy, a loyalty to the kind of basketball that we're trying to play.
"And that legacy is still here in the returning players...I challenged our seniors to provide that leadership, and they've stepped up," Allen said.
Donya Anderson, who continues to call a double-double in an average game and is the most decorated member of Tabor's starting five, is one of three seniors already to answering the bell.
"Donya sees the court really well," Allen said of the honorable mention NAIA all-American. "She can score from a variety of locations-down low, medium range, even an occasional 3-pointer if you forget about her."
Anderson has led the KCAC in rebounding for two years running, and has twice been rewarded with all-conference honors.
Emily Vogts, who transferred in from Boston College a year ago and was given Co-Newcomer of the Year honors in 2006, will have a slightly different role in '07.
"We moved her from center to small forward...with her quickness and length, that's to her advantage," Allen said.
While the height Vogts brings to the team is important, opponents should note the speed and skill with which the 6-3 senior plays.
"Emily can shoot from all over the floor as well as defend almost every position," Allen said.
Senior Nicole Ellis steps into the starting lineup at power forward and brings consistency to the low block.
"She possesses rare shooting skill for her position," Allen said.
In addition to Ellis' shooting skill, her coach described her as a "really smart player who rarely makes a mistake, (and) an amazingly hard-working player."
Though the veteran corps of returning scorers has TC off to a hot start-averaging a hair shy of 70 points per game in six non-conference wins-defense will continue to be a point of emphasis.
"Our balanced scoring attack makes it hard to scout us. I don't want to speak for other coaches, but my feeling is that a balanced attack gives us a chance to score the points we need to win regardless of who's hot and who's cold."
During a six-game win streak, the Bluejays have held the opposition to 54.5 points per game and may be getting ready to take their defense to an even higher level.
"I think we're getting ready to get considerably better," Allen said. "First, because we're understanding defense better as a whole team and the younger players are starting to get it. And second, because we're about to add some quality depth to our squad that will allow us to extend ourselves (defensively) without worrying about fatigue."
The depth Allen anticipates adding will come primarily from improved health as the season progresses.
Three players are looking to bounce back from injuries, including two-time first-team all-conference guard and former Freshman of the Year Stacie Herman.
"In my time here, I don't remember a freshman making the all-conference team," Allen said. "Stacie is a really good shooter who takes the ball to the basket really strong and is very, very quick defensively."
While Herman, a junior, is recovering from a knee injury, sophomore Kirsten Watson is making the most of the opportunity to start for a squad coming off of consecutive KCAC championships.
"(Watson) is shooting well, passing well and playing really good defense. She was letter-winner for us last year, and we're getting a lot of mileage out of her right now," Allen said.
Despite the injuries, the early outlook for Allen's team is bright: "We've got people who can score inside and people who can score from the three-point line; we've got a nice transition game; and we're getting better in our half-court sets-that's one of the hardest things to get really good at in the game of basketball."
Two of the injured are underclassmen, and three freshmen have begun to log important minutes.
Freshman point guard Andrea Robinson has started every game for Tabor so far, and has turned in impressive performances at both ends of the floor.
"She's electric," Allen said. "She has really quick feet and can handle the ball in a way that keeps other teams from pressuring us."
Freshman forward Erin Runge "has been playing a lot already, and in spite of limited practice time due to injury, has given us a lot in our first few games," Allen said.
Runge has earned high marks for her rebounding, passing and defense so far.
"(Runge) is very strong and can score some," Allen said.
Stephanie Silvas, a left-handed guard, is a third freshman the Bluejays have turned to in the early going.
"She's great in transition, never gets tired and outruns everybody. Injuries have her playing 20 minutes a game so far."
The fourth freshman in a superb recruiting class is Chelsea Malone.
Although currently out with an injury, Malone brings an all-state set of skills that made her a top player at Ellinwood last year.
Allen calls Malone "extremely athletic" and describes her as a guard who "does everything well at both ends of the court...she learns fast, so we expect her to help us."
Sophomore center Jenny Gaskell, in addition to being out with an injured finger, is, according to the coach, "the most improved player over the summer."
Allen anticipates Gaskell will help the team inside when she gets back in action.
In all of the new faces, there is another instantly recognizable quality that forms something of a thread woven into the fabric of the team-Allen's three-pronged commitment to excellence.
"Playing hard, playing smart, and playing together is what allows you to reach your potential, and I believe that everyone on our team buys into that," Allen said.
It is no coincidence that intensity, intelligence and unity are also the building blocks of the brand of team play that has powered past teams toward post-season success.
With a deep group of underclassmen to complement a collection of highly polished veterans, the 2006-07 Tabor Collegewomen's basketball team enters its conference schedule in a strong position to defend its KCAC title again.