2015-16 women’s basketball preview


Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

The women’s basketball team finished the 2014-15 season with its third straight 20-win season and made its second consecutive NAIA national tournament appearance. The women’s final record was 21-10 on the year with a 13-5 mark in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. The 2015-16 Wildcats look to remain at the top of the conference as the new season begins in November.

The backcourt for the Wildcats will feature two returning starters in seniors Jami Hodge and Ericka Simpson. Both averaged close to seven points per game last season, Simpson started in all but one game and Hodge was one of the best defenders in the Heart.

“The experience factor is huge for the two of them,” head coach Ben Lister said. “They both know what I expect from them at this point.”

Also in the backcourt will be sophomore Caitlin Modesett. Modesett made a name for herself last season, playing mainly as the backup point guard. Modesett knocked down 31 percent of her threes and hit 83 percent of her throws, the second best percentage on the team. As just a freshman she scored in double digits seven times and twice in postseason play.

Her best game came in an NAIA tournament loss to Oklahoma Baptist when she knocked down three three-pointers and led Baker back into the game with 14 points. Her second-half performance showed to the coaches and the conference what she is capable of in the next three years.

Another great piece for Baker to have back will be junior forward Kelsey Larson. Larson was one of the most important players in Baker’s nine-game win streak with her ability to defend, shoot and score.

“I think she’s going to have the type of year that will put her in the running for an all-conference nomination,” Lister said. “She’s definitely a kid that’s very versatile and can play both ends extremely well.”

Larson’s great second half kept her in the starting lineup in every game throughout the most important stretch of the season.

“She plays really hard, she’s very physical on and off the ball and she just has a winning mentality,” Lister said. “She really competes at a high level, and that’s why she got into the starting role.”

The post game for Baker will be one of its strongest positions in 2015-16. Not only do the Wildcats return two-time reigning Heart Defensive Player of the Year senior Macy Wallisch but the coaching staff also brought in sophomore Courtney Hoag out of Cowley County Community College.

“We have a super strong post game,” junior Kenzie Cook said. “With Macy coming back and with her experience will help us a lot. I think just having the height that we have down there will give us a huge advantage.”

Like Wallisch, Hoag is also 6-3, and the two will be the biggest centers in the conference.

“We’re going to have the two best post players, in my opinion, in the conference as far as athleticism and ability,” Lister said.

The Wildcats will use several different forwards throughout the season along with Larson. Taylor Chase as well as junior Kenzie Cook and sophomore Sydney Buchel will split time playing as threes or fours. Cook was the only one of those three to see much playing time last season, with Chase and Buchel sitting out with injuries. Cook played in 29 of the team’s 31 games last season and had her best game of the season against MNU at home.

“Having a bigger role on the team helps build your confidence and helping win games adds to that confidence,” Cook said.

Cook scored 14 points against the Pioneers and competed for more playing time for the rest of the season. Cook will play more than her eight minutes per game last season.

“Kenzie is a great athlete and we’re expecting her to take a big step forward this year,” Lister said.

Lister also hopes to use Buchel more this season. Buchel started three games as a freshman and was playing more than 12 minutes per games, but injuries have affected her over the past two years, and she missed the entire season last year. Buchel hasn’t played in a game in more than a year and is excited to start playing again.

Along with Hoag the coaching staff brought in seven new players to replace the five seniors and the loss of Ebony Parker from last season. Freshman forward Brooke McMillin will have a chance to emerge early as a regular player. McMillin has the speed, athleticism and shot be able to succeed for Lister’s team early.

Lister also sees freshman guard Jessica Zweifel playing early. Zweifel went to Thunder Ridge High School, the same high school as Taylor Chase, in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Zwiefel will start behind Simpson, Hodge and Modesett in the backcourt.

The biggest loss for Baker was first team all-conference forward Kyrstie Ehm. Ehm was an NAIA All-American, a 1,000-point scorer for her career at Baker and the team’s leading scorer last season at 13.6 points per game.

“We don’t have any player that plays the way Kyrstie played,” Simpson said. “The only player that’s close is Caitlin Modesett, because she has a scorer’s mentality.”

Ehm was the go-to player for the Wildcats. Ehm could not only shoot the three with accuracy, but she could drive to the basket and get to the foul line better than anybody else on the team. Ehm was an 86 percent free-throw shooter.

“We don’t have somebody right now that we can give the ball to to score like we did last year,” Buchel said.

Baker also loses its all-time leading rebounder in Rashida Simpson, its first player off the bench last year in Angel Woods, three-point specialist Avery Vogts and role player Haleigh Tenpenny. Lister feels confident in this year’s squad, though.

“I think our talent overall is as good, if not better than it was last year,” Lister said.

The biggest key for Baker will be finishing games. In all five of Baker’s conference losses, and losses in the postseason, the problem was not finishing down the stretch.

“We can’t underestimate anybody this year if we want to win,” Buchel said. “We have to be ready to go against every team.”

One thing that Baker did learn from last season was that its defense is one of the best in the NAIA. The Wildcats allowed 61 points per game and made driving into the lane lmost impossible with Wallisch blocking shots left and right.

Baker opens the regular season at 6 p.m. on Nov. 6 in the Collins Center against the Midland Redskins. Last season Baker won at Midland 100-99 on a buzzer-beater by Jami Hodge on her birthday.

With the additions of William Penn and Grand View to the Heart, each team will play 22 conference games instead of 18. This makes the conference stretch begin on Nov. 18.