The Baker Orange

2014-15 Women’s Basketball Preview

Steve Sanders

Steve Sanders

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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Coming off a 17-1 conference championship last season, the 2014-15 women’s basketball team is looking to repeat its success and make another deep playoff run after finishing with a 27-7 record, including a 17-game win streak.

Reigning Heart of America Athletic Conference Coach of the Year Ben Lister and his 10th-ranked Wildcats started full practice Oct. 1, exactly one month before their first game Nov. 1 at home against Midland University. The team returns 12 players and five newcomers to the roster.

The Wildcats’ second leading scorer from last season, senior Kyrstie Ehm, returns and should provide an offensive spark this season. Ehm averaged 13.3 points per game last season and shot 45 percent from the field.

“We know what we’re going to get out of Kyrstie,” Lister said. “She is capable of being in double digits every night.”

The team also returns the HAAC Defensive Player of the Year, junior Macy Wallisch, who was second in the nation with 107 blocks last season. Wallisch was also the team’s leading rebounder with 7.8 boards per game.

“Macy’s playing a lot better than she was last year, even offensively,” Lister said.

Last year, Lister couldn’t quite find the right lineup for his team until its scrimmage at Emporia State last season and then at the Tabor Classic in early January, when he decided to start Wallisch and then bring junior Taylor Chase into the mix at forward. The rest was history – Baker didn’t lose a game from that point on until the conference tournament championship game against MidAmerica Nazarene.

“We stuck with the group that was playing well together, and they obviously played well together for a long time,” Lister said.

This year, the team will have to find its identity quickly.

“We’ve got a really challenging non-conference schedule to start with,” Lister said. “We’re not going to have a whole lot of time to sit there and figure everything out.”

The Wildcats have to replace All-American guard and HAAC Player of the Year BriAnna Garza. Garza averaged 15 points per game, had over four assists per game, and averaged the most minutes per game of anybody on the team with 32.

“Bri didn’t assume that role until the Central Methodist game (Dec. 16),” Lister said. “I think she became more assertive on the offensive end and was the go-to kid, and that changed the dynamics of what we did from that point on.”

Junior guard Ericka Simpson will fill the point guard role to begin the season. Simpson saw limited time last year behind Garza, but she averaged 2.1 points per game and was third on the team in assists.

“(Ericka has) been here two years and knows how everything is run,” Lister said of Simpson. “Ericka will probably start for us at the point and it will be her show to run here.”

Junior Jami Hodge will also find her way into the lineup at guard with Simpson.

“Jami is exceptionally fast and athletic,” Lister said. “I think she has gotten better at making decisions in the half court.”

Senior forward Rashida Simpson will be sharing time with Wallisch, but Lister hopes to find some ways to get both on the court at the same time.

“We want to find a way to get Rashida more minutes than what we got her last year,” Lister said. “Rashida’s an impact kid and is practicing like one right now. She’s so hard to guard.”

Rashida was fifth on the team in scoring last season with 6.9 points per game. She also grabbed 5.0 boards per game.

“I’m working on being more efficient around the basket,” Rashida said. “I’m trying to step my game back by shooting more outside shots.”

Lister is also trying to work in sophomore forward Mackenzie Cook into the rotation down low.

“We’re going to get Mackenzie into the mix quite a bit more than we did last year,” Lister said. “She has really improved. She’s super athletic and I think she’ll create a lot of problems in our league with her explosiveness.”

The team will also be receiving help from four freshmen, including Ebony Parker and Caitlin Modesett.

“Our two freshmen we are looking at, Ebony and Caitlin, are kids that can score. They’re going to be in the mix early,” Lister said. “They give us the dimension of getting to the rim.”

“These freshmen we’ve got coming in – they’re good,” Rashida said. “Caitlin and Ebony, they get buckets and they play defense.”

Senior Angel Woods returns as well. Woods was the “sixth man” down the stretch last season, coming into games and making an impact off the bench. Woods scored 3.9 points per game off the bench and shot 58 percent from the floor.

Last season’s 17-game winning streak was propelled by defense.

“That’s something we talk about a lot in practice, being a good defensive team,” Lister said. “Not just playing but understanding what we can do to keep our opponents from being successful.”

The Wildcats open up their 2014-15 campaign Nov. 1 at home against Midland. They will then hit the road to play Southwestern College and then a tournament at Regis University in Denver, Colorado.

Conference play begins Dec. 4 at MidAmerica, a rematch of last year’s conference tournament championship game that the Wildcats lost in overtime, 79-72.

Winning conference champions again is a team goal.

“I expect us to repeat as HAAC champions,” Rashida said. “That’s never happened before and we’re going to make that happen this year.”

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