The season ended in a 61-44 loss to eventual national champion Indiana Wesleyan.
Donya Anderson, Emily Vogts and Nicole Ellis, three key components of the Bluejay frontcourt during the 2006-07 season, graduated during the off-season, taking 35 points per game of offense and untold contributions to the Bluejay defense with them.
Add to those key losses the departure of head coach Rusty Allen, and it is no wonder pollsters picked the Bluejays sixth—three slots lower than they finished last season—in this year’s preseason polls.
“It’s not surprising, being picked sixth—we lost some good players,” said Shawn Winter, former assistant who succeeded Allen in the top spot. “But I think not everybody is aware of the personnel we do have.”
It is difficult to say to what extent the polls were affected by the injury trouble the Bluejays faced entering the season.
But now, with conference play looming, the Bluejays are finally getting healthy.
Stacie Herman has been unhindered by the injuries that slowed her going into last year, and her health has been reflected in a points per game average near 20 through the early part of non-conference schedule.
“Stacie is a three-time all conference performer and she’s fully recovered from her ACL injury and she’s by far our leader on the court,” Winter said. “She’s bringing the same level of intensity into every practice, and there’s no question that the team is relying on her going into the conference schedule.”
Herman is a a 5-6 senior guard and former KCAC Freshman of the Year.
When able to perform at their respective peaks, Chelsea Malone and Erin Runge will be important contributors for the Bluejays.
“Chelsea is getting stronger every day and I’d say she’s at about 80 percent right now,” Winter said. “She’s the kind of player that if she gets healthy and regains her confidence, she’s going to be able to score 12, 15 or 20 points per night for our team. And she gives us a lot on the defensive end as well.”
Malone is a 5-7 sophomore guard. Runge, also a sophomore, is a 5-9 forward.
“Erin is finally back after off-season shoulder surgery—we’re looking for her to play her first game of the season Thursday to open conference.”
When healthy, Runge makes plays that tilt the game in her team’s favor.
“Erin’s a real difference maker—if she’s physically able to go and remain healthy, she’s going to have a major impact on our ability to win games.”
Kirsten Watson, a 5-6 guard, is “a really hard-nosed player” in Winter’s view.
“She really understands how the game is supposed to be played at both ends of the floor and I feel like she gives a lot of leadership to the team.”
Beyond the intangibles Watson brings, she is also capable of lighting up the scoreboard.
“She’s been doing a lot of the scoring so far—she’s capable of putting up 15, 18 or 20 points any given night,” Winter said.
The off-season addition of 5-7 senior Joanna Pyle has infused speed and strength in the Tabor lineup.
“We’re just glad to have Joanna,” Winter said. “Her athletic ability and quickness help us more than anything on the defensive end of the court. A lot of times we’ll have her guard the other team’s best perimeter threat, because she has the ability to go out and shut somebody down.
Katie Fast, a 6-2 senior from Hillsboro, has anchored the team’s efforts in the post thus far.
“I think Katie gives us a needed presence inside, especially on the defensive end,” Winter said. “When she doesn’t block shots, she has the ability to alter shots.
“Offensively, she has ability to score around the basket and to step out and hit the medium-range jump shot.”
Brittany Roth, a 5-11 freshman, has made a massive contribution to the Bluejay interior.
“Roth is strong defending the other team’s post players and has been excellent rebounding,” Winter said. “She’s had several games where she’s had double-digits in rebounding.”
The Bluejays have two important freshman forwards in addition to Roth in Addie Cole and Jordan Crosson.
Cole is a 5-10 player from Laredo. Crosson is a 6-0 center from Minneapolis.
“Addie’s strength as a player is getting to the free throw line, drawing fouls, rebounding and playing good defense,” Winter said.
Crosson is getting a late start in her freshman basketball campaign because she played a major role in the front row with the volleyball team.
“Jordan just joined the team a week or so ago, and she’s just learning the plays,” Winter said. “She’s someone we feel like, when she’s ready to go, she’s going to be able to come off the bench and play significant minutes in the paint.”
Facing an extremely difficult non-conference schedule that has included three of the NAIA’s best teams as well as NCAA Division II powerhouse Emporia State, Tabor has posted a 1-8 record thus far.
The schedule is intended to put the team to the test and to emerge stronger.
“Right now I’d have to say that we’re stronger on the perimeter than we are in the paint,” Winter said. “We’re relying on our guards to do a lot of the scoring and to create a lot of the offense.
“I think we’ll become more balanced as Runge gets on the court and Crosson works her way into the mix.”
The Bluejays are still working toward embracing Winter’s vision of an effective identity.
“One of the things we talk about every day in practice is establishing consistency in our effort,” he said. “We’ve struggled in the loss column and we’ve struggled to put two good halves together, and if you break it down, we’ve struggled to put four or five good possessions together,” he said.
“So we’re trying to instill in our team that we have to focus and execute and be really determined on every possession, both offensively and defensively,” he added.
“We’re trying to get the team to play hard for 40 minutes, and we feel like if we can do that, we can build our system around that.”
The Bluejays are set to open the conference slate against the 4-3 Bethany Swedes at 6 p.m. Thursday in Hillsboro.