The Baker Orange

Senior class to lead women’s basketball team

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The women’s basketball team returns to the floor this season with four returning starters, including three seniors. The senior class has been a part of back-to-back NAIA national tournaments, three straight 20-win seasons and three consecutive seasons with a different All-American. As seniors this group looks to add another chapter to the success of this program.

“I think it’s cool to see how each of us have grown over the years,” senior Ericka Simpson said. “You have a special bond with all your teammates, but its especially close with the people you came in with.”

Simpson will be the floor general for this year’s team. Simpson saw playing time as a freshman and sophomore but truly emerged as a leader on this team during her junior season. Simpson scored 7.2 points per game and dished out 2.4 assists per game in her first season as the true point guard.

Head coach Ben Lister alluded to the fact that Simpson’s numbers last season were almost identical to 2013-14 Heart Player of the Year BriAnna Garza’s numbers in her junior year.

“I don’t know if Ericka’s going to be the player of the year in the conference but we certainly think she’s capable of taking another step forward,” Lister said.

Senior Jami Hodge will be another important feature in the Baker backcourt alongside Simpson. Hodge is one of the team’s best defenders and shoots the three-ball well. Last season Hodge averaged just shy of seven points per game and made 33 percent of her threes. Hodge has established herself as one of the quicker players in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.

“Jami has accepted the role of defending the best player on the other team consistently,” Lister said. “She really improved offensively last year as well.”

Hodge and Simpson have a special connection in the backcourt because of how long they’ve played together.

“They can look at each other and know where they’re supposed to be,” junior Kenzie Cook said. “I think Ericka and Jami play great together because they’ve played together for so long.”

The two not only came to Baker in the same recruiting class but also played together in high school for the Spring Hill Broncos. Simpson and Hodge even played together before high school. The two have been playing for the same teams since the fourth grade.

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

Senior Macy Wallisch is the most decorated player returning for the Wildcats this year. Two seasons ago Wallisch was named the Heart’s Defensive Player of the Year with 107 blocks on the season en route to the team’s regular season conference title.

“I think this year will be her best year,” Simpson said. “She’s gotten better every year and also this is her final year playing. She knows she’s a senior, she’s confident and she’s working hard.”

Last season Wallisch earned her second straight Defensive Player of the Year award after another strong season in the post for the 6-3 senior from Holton. Wallisch led the country in blocks with 83 and forced teams to play outside of the lane.

“Macy is a difference maker on both ends of the floor,” Lister said. “You’re talking about a kid who led the country in blocked shots while playing 21 minutes a game.”

This season Wallisch will be tested in practice by sophomore Courtney Hoag, a transfer from Cowley County Community College. Hoag was a part of the Cowley Tigers’ national champion volleyball team in her first year at Cowley. In her second year she switched to basketball and averaged 4 points per game with 3 boards and a team-high 1.3 blocks per game.

“They’re making each other better and we’re looking forward to utilizing Courtney,” Lister said. “She certainly has the athletic ability to play at the level Macy is at.”

Taylor Chase is the fourth senior on the team. After missing the majority of last season due to injury, Chase looks to be one of the leaders of this group.

“All of us seniors are focusing on staying positive but still getting onto people when they need to be gotten on to,” Chase said.

Last season the team crumbled down the stretch of every conference loss. With another year under the players’ belts and a core group of seniors, Simpson thinks that the extra year will benefit the younger players as well as the seniors.

“This year in tight situations we will know how to win,” Simpson said. “The experienced team knows how to win and how to pull it out in the end.”

Lister feels the same way as Simpson.

“If we can put things together we definitely have a group that I think will be able to compete at the top of the league again,” Lister said.

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