Three points are all that separated the women’s basketball team from potentially shaking up Division II basketball last season.
Missouri Western dropped its opening round game in the MIAA tournament to Washburn 58-55.
The loss to Washburn ended Western’s season on a three-game losing streak and has left a bad taste in the the team’s mouths all offseason.
“I think that loss is fueling us quite a lot,” Coach Lynn Plett said, “in particular, players like Jessica Koch and some of the other returning players.”
Koch led all scorers in the loss with 17 points and 11 rebounds, including the potential game-winning shot that rolled off the rim.
The senior forward also led the team in almost every major statistical category, as well as being the leader in minutes played, averaging 33 minutes per game. With Koch being such a key factor to the Griffons’ success, other players will have to step up to fill the void.
This season, Western returns several familiar faces and a strong recruiting class. The Griffons lost Rachel Luteyn, Western’s leading rebounder last season, and Lauren Nolke, who was ranked No. 14 in the nation in three point field goals and percentage.
“I think we have a really good nucleus of players returning this season that will help with leadership roles and filling those vacated spots,” Plett said.
Koch, Kallie Schoonover, Brittany Cassidy, Alex Noble and Alicia Bell will provide veteran leadership to the team this season.
Perhaps the biggest contributor this season will be returning guard Ashleigh Curry. The senior, who hasn’t played since 2007, is coming back after sitting out three seasons. She didn’t attend college from 2008-10, but returned last year, went to classes and practiced with the team in order to have eligibility for this season.
“I think this season is going to be great,” Curry said. “We have all the weapons now to go out and get plenty of wins. All I’m gonna say is, don’t be surprised if we’re number one.”
According to a video by Western athletics, guard Caitlin Linihan talked about the team’s work ethic as a key to this season.
“Our work ethic is great,” Linihan said. “We get better each and every day. We come out; we go hard every day. It’s always something new with us so it will be interesting.”
Linihan played in 11 games last season. Of the players who played in 2010, Schoonover saw significant playing time, scoring 4.4 points per game and appeared in all 27 games. Bell was ineligible until December last season and was second on the team to Koch with 3.3 assists per game.
Western also is returning five seniors that will provide the Griffons with strong leadership for younger players and incoming freshman.
“Our returning players and seniors have a lot of experience, and they will provide us plenty of leadership,” Plett said.
Western finished seventh in the MIAA last season and has its work cut out for it in the 2011-12 season.
Because of the post presence left empty by Luteyn, Plett has had to improvise with this season’s squad to counter MIAA powers, such as Washburn and Northwest Missouri State.
“I think that our speed will help to counter some of that,” Plett said. “I try to find matchups on the other teams that we can exploit and try to get us points.”
The Griffons are tabbed eighth in the MIAA preseason poll, with the team they almost knocked off in the MIAA tournament last season, Washburn, at No. 1 in the conference.