Picked as the preseason favorite to wear the KCAC crown this season, the Tabor College women have overcome a rocky start and currently are on course for success.
After opening the 2017-18 schedule with double-digit losses to sixth-ranked College of the Ozarks and University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, the Bluejays have won five games in a row, including victories over Southwestern, McPherson and York College for a 3-0 KCAC start.
Coach Shawn Reed, who started the season with a 124-70 record after six years at Tabor, said he was surprised his team was picked to win the conference title, considering the quality athletes who graduated from Tabor’s 27-7 team a year ago.
“I’m not 100 percent sure why we were picked first, maybe it’s just a nod to what we’ve been able to do the past few years—to be competitive and compete for championships,” Reed said. “We don’t really talk about it because it doesn’t make a world of difference to me.”
Reed’s shelf is far from bare this season. Two Bluejays were named to the preseason All-KCAC team.
Morgan Ediger, a 5-9 junior guard from Cimarron, was an All-KCAC third team selection who averaged 12.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game to go with 61 assists.
“She came off the bench as a freshman and last year was KCAC Freshman of the Year,” Reed said. “She started for us and did a good job. She has come a long way as a player, defensively she’s made some good strides. She still has some more work to do there, but she is continuing to work on that.”
Through Tabor first five games, Ediger is averaging 13 points, 5.8 rebounds and has dished out a team-high 15 assists.
“Morgan is a tremendous scorer of the basketball, and she’s good with the basketball in her hands,” Reed said. “She hasn’t shot as well this year yet, but I know that will come.”
Also named to the preseason team was Taylor Deniston (5-4 junior guard from Holcomb), an all-conference honorable-mention player who averaged 8.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 62 assists.
“She came off the bench her freshman year and started last year and became a more consistent player for us as the year went on,” Reed said.
So far this season, Deniston is averaging 11.2 points and 3.4 rebounds.
“Taylor is a tremendous ball handler, she shoots the three really well and she can create for herself and others,” he added. “She’s got to work on slowing down at times and taking care of the basketball a little bit better. But she’s more than capable of doing that. She’s a tenacious defender and is a workhorse kind of a player.”
Reed said he and the team are looking to Ediger and Deniston for leadership.
“We graduated some tremendous leaders on our team, so their role is changing,” he said. “Anytime that happens, there’s a learning curve and some adaptation that takes place. Both of them understanding that and are embracing that as we move forward.”
Reed mentioned four additional players who will need to contribute for the Bluejays to achieve their potential.
• “Kristyn Wedel (5-11 junior post player from Burns) is a kid who played behind some really good post players, including Tena Loewen and some other kids we’ve had in the program.
“She’s put in her time and has played really well for us in our first four games, specially at the defensive end,” he added. “I believe she’s very capable for scoring 8-14 points for us on a regular basis. She shoots the ball pretty well, is an excellent defender and a good rebounder.”
• “Tristan Leiszler (5-7 junior guard from Concordia) is a kid who came off the bench last year and is a good shooter of the basketball,” Reed said. “She’s a heady player with the basketball in her hands and has become a solid defensive player. ”
• “Kelsey Unruh (6-0 junior from Hesston) will come off the bench for us,” Reed said. “She’s a long post player and will shoot the basketball a little bit. She played JV last year and is another kid who sat behind some pretty good players.”
• “Amber Bonham (5-8 senior from Oklahoma) will probably give us quite a bit of time,” Reed said. “She’s a really good clutch shooter, she knows our system.”
Bonham has been limited somewhat this season by a knee injury.
“She’s playing through some pain, but she gave us very consistent minutes the other day. She came to me and said, ‘Coach, I think we’d be better off if I came off the bench.’ I can’t tell you what a difference that made in our past two games. I think that speaks volumes about her character. It was a sacrificial thing, but a good move for our team.”
Reed highlighted six players who are knew to the varsity team.
• “Sammy Jo Peterson (5-7 guard from Cottonwood falls) started for us the last two games in Amber’s spot—I think she scored in double figures both games.”
Peterson was an all-state player her senior season at Chase County.
“She’s just a hard-nosed, tough kid who plays at both ends of the court.”
• “Lauryn Washington (5-8 sophomore from Oklahoma) is a really athletic guard who will make an impact this year. She’s dynamic with the ball in her hands, and can rebound and pressure and do things defensively.”
• “Olivia Brubacher (5-5 freshman guard from Hesston) is a very good defender, somebody who learns very quickly and is kind if a cerebral player. I’m excited about seeing her continue to grow. She’s been solid for us off the bench.
• “Taylor Miers (5-11) and Hannah Schumacher (6-0), juniors from Oklahoma, will get some time as the year moves on,” Reed said. “They’re kids who can help us when we need to go a little bigger in our lineup. They’re both true post players who can shoot it a little, too.”
Reed said his team has been working hard, but he would like to see more consistency on the court.
“We all want to have success, but that doesn’t come instantly,” he said. “In this day and age, when everything is instant, I’m selling something that’s not in fashion and not in vogue. We constantly battle that every year.”
As players embrace Reed’s system, success on the court should follow.
“We have to stay healthy this year,” he added, “because I don’t think we have the depth we’ve had the past three years. That will develop as we go.”
Reed downplayed his team’s No.12 NAIA preseason ranking.
“The expectation at Tabor has changed,” he said. “I think the girls were surprised by that, but I don’t put a lot of stock in those things. It’s nice for getting people excited, but other than that it doesn’t serve much of a purpose for us.
“Our expectations for ourselves is the most important thing. Those are high, and we didn’t meet those in our first two games. But in the past two games I felt like we started to be more who I want us to be and who we have been.”