TC women picked as KCAC title favorite

Janae Rempel / Free Press<p>These seniors will form a solid core for the Tabor College women?s basketball team:?(from left) Mallory Zuercher, Taylor Hurd, Kayla Wilgers. Returning all-conference selections not pictured are: Tena Loewen and Kaleigh Troxell.

On the heels of its most successful NAIA tournament run in program history, the Tabor College women?s basketball team enters the 2015-16 season optimistic for coming year.

This preseason, Tabor was selected to finish first by KCAC coaches and members of the media, and the Bluejays rank tied for ninth in the NAIA Division II coaches? Top 25 poll.

Last year, the Bluejays won the regular-season conference title for the first time in 10 years and qualified for the NAIA Division II Women?s Basketball National Championship for the second consecutive year.?

The Bluejays advanced to the tournament quarterfinals, gracing the round of eight for the first time in program history, and concluded the season with an overall record of 21-13 after a loss to Briar Cliff.

Tabor?s stalwart defense was a driving force all season; the Bluejays ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense per game, limiting opponents to around 58 points per game.?

However, at times the Bluejays struggled to score, something which fifth-year coach Shawn Reed has addressed heading into this season.?

?I think we?ve gotten a little bit more scoring this year and scoring options,? he said. ?We were pretty good defensively last year. We rebounded pretty well. I think we?ll have a few more options for shooting the basketball and creating for others than we have, maybe, in the past.?

Tabor will move forward without its leading scorer, Tonisha Dean, who averaged 12.4 points per game, received NAIA third-team All-America honors and was a unanimous All-KCAC first-team selection.?

?I?ve never had a player where everybody in the gym knew what she was going to do and they still couldn?t stop her,? Reed said. ?(Tonisha) was 5-11, strong, amazingly quick and could jump out of the gym.?

Replacing a dynamic athlete like Dean will require more ball movement, Reed said.

?There were times we stood and watched (Tonisha) play, and we will not be able to do that this year,? he said. ?I think we?ll be able to share the basketball a little bit more, and we?ll be able to play as a unit a little bit more.?

Tabor will also play without defensive anchors Taylor Janzen and Erin Maxwell.?

?Taylor Janzen and Erin Maxwell both played quite a few minutes for us,? Reed said. ?Their points were maybe limited, but they were good defensive players and good rebounders, and we will miss their experience.?

Returning players

However, with four starters returning, Reed has a number of weapons at his disposal.

Junior forward Tena Loewen, a 5-foot, 11-inch athlete who is also a member of the Tabor volleyball team, was a second-team All-KCAC selection last year and a member of the defensive team. She turned in per-game averages of 7.7 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.?

Junior guard Kaleigh Troxell (5-9) was named to the All-KCAC third team a year ago, averaging 8.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.?

Junior forward Sam Short (5-11) led the conference in blocked shots per game with 1.68. On average, she scored 4.6 points and grabbed 4.1 rebounds per game last season.?

Tabor?s fourth returning starter, senior guard Mallory Zuercher (5-7), turned in per-game averages of 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a year ago.

Additional returning talent includes senior guards Kayla Wilgers (5-6) and Taylor Hurd (5-8).?

Wilgers started 22 games last year and earned All-KCAC honorable mention honors for a season that saw her average 8.8 points and lead the Bluejays in assists (2.1 per game) and steals (1.5 per game). Wilgers? assist to turnover ration of 1.3 placed her fifth in the KCAC.?

Hurd averaged 5.4 points per game last year. She contributed an average of 11.6 points per game in the national tournament.?

Returning players with limited varsity experience include junior guards Dani Dowell (5-9) and Bailey Clark (5-6), and sophomores Ali Nakvinda (5-9, forward), Amber Bonham (5-8, guard) and Mollie Hawkins (5-4, guard).?

?I feel good about the people that we return, and the experience that we have, and that they were able to buckle down and overcome some disappointment in the KCAC tournament and bounce back and play really well at the national tournament,? Reed said. ?I think (that) says a lot about the quality of people that we have.?

Newcomers

Tabor has brought in a recruiting class of 12 newcomers to help replace what was lost.?

?We do have some new pieces that are going to play,? Reed said. ?Right now we?re trying to figure all that out and balance all of that. I think we?ve got good depth, and our team is very competitive.?

Highlighting that list are three junior transfers, all of whom have potential to heighten Tabor?s ability to score, Reed said.

They include: Jurnee Reid, a 5-9 junior forward from Butler Community College; Nicole Decker (5-10, forward) from Lake Michigan College; and Shaletha Clark, (5-10, forward) from Seminole State College.

Highlighting a group of seven incoming freshmen are guards Morgan Ediger (5-9) from Cimarron, who was named Miss Basketball by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association; Taylor Deniston (5-4), a KBCA all-star selection from Holcomb; and Tristen Leiszler (5-7) from Concordia.

It will be important to get the newcomers up to speed defensively.?

?We return a lot of good defensive players, and on the perimeter we?re pretty much the same,? Reed said. ?We teach a little bit different defensive system, and so we?ve got to get the newcomers up to speed on that, but we also needed to score more points. That was our issue last year. We rebounded well. We played pretty good defense, so we tried to swing the pendulum a little bit. We?ll see if it swung too far.?

Outlook

Tabor will once again face a tough non-conference schedule in preparation for KCAC play.?

The Bluejays will match up against two of the four semifinal teams from last year?s national tournament: Hastings and Briar Cliff. Other teams posing an early challenge will be NAIA Division I schools William Woods, Mid-America Christian and MidAmerica Nazarene, and Division II Dakota Wesleyan and Haskell University.

The addition of Oklahoma Wesleyan to the KCAC strengthens an already competitive conference. OKWU qualified for the national tournament a year ago, where the Eagles went 1-1.

?I think our conference will be as tough as it?s ever been since I?ve been in the league the second time around,? Reed said. ?It?ll be really tough.?

Reed said the expectations for the team are high this season, which include competing for championships and advancing to the national tournament.?

But while the end result would be reaching those destinations, Reed?s goals for the team are focused more on things the Bluejays can control.?

?We have control over how hard we work every day, how much we improve, and so that?s what we?re trying to focus on,? Reed said. ?We would like to do some of those things. Those are destinations that we would like to reach, but our goals are more related to things that we can control.

?That?s what we?re focusing on, and we?re hoping that we reach some of those destinations.?

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