Women’s basketball preview: Roussell’s first full year holds great promise

By Kate Fratar

Returning to the courts with last year’s core intact and a host of new talent, women’s basketball stands ready to meet and exceed great expectations.

After three seasons of sub-.500 ball, Chicago broke out last season, recording their most successful season in over a decade with an overall 16–9 mark and a 9–5 fourth-place finish in the UAA, their best standing in the last four years.

With the squad taking the league by storm, two Maroons, fourth-year forward Susie Gutowski and third-year guard Korry Schwanz, made the All-UAA first team for the first time in the conference’s 18-year existence. Schwanz ranked fourth in the UAA in three-point field goals per game (1.80) and three-point percentage (.352), fifth in scoring (13.2 ppg), and ninth in assists per game (2.84).

Gutowski’s work on the season won her even further recognition. As two-time UAA athlete of the week and Chicago’s first All-American since 1991, she led the league with 10 double-doubles and ranked fourth in scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg) Gutowski stood fifth in field goal percentage (.475), and sixth in free throw percentage (.754). Her 361 points on the season was the fifth-highest total in team history and the most since the 1985-1986 season. Her work and presence on the court make her a prominent team leader and a force to be reckoned with this winter.

“I don’t know if we’re going to run into a better player,” head coach Aaron Roussell said.

Roussell begins his second round as Chicago’s skipper along with 12 returning players. Roussell, who signed on as assistant coach before the 2004-5 academic year, took the reins of the Maroons when head coach Jennifer Kroll unexpectedly resigned just before the start of the season to take a head coaching position at St. Lawrence University. He instantly provided the spark for a floundering team, and posted the best win-loss mark of any rookie coach in Chicago women’s basketball history. With a full offseason to instill his philosophy, his crew will enter the season looking to take another step forward.

Offense provided the driving force behind the success of the 2004-2005 campaign. The athletic squad compensated for a lack of height on the team by concentrating on pushing the ball up the court. Their approach showed remarkable results, as the Maroons posted 1743 points on the season for a new all-time school record. With this solid offense, the Maroons focused their preseason work on other aspects of their game.

“We were able to put up a lot of points on the board last year,” Roussell said. “This year’s offensive talent should be even greater.”

A veteran roster and fourth-year class with great chemistry add to Chicago’s advantages. Leading the team are tri-captains Gutowski, Schwanz, and fourth-year guard Janae Winner, who ranked fourth in UAA last season in assists per game (3.60), averaged 7.0 points per game, and shot 79.1 percent from the free throw line.

“As a coach, it is nice to have this much experience and talent,” Roussell said. “If we play it right, our depth should give us an advantage over the benches of most teams we see.”

Roussell identified the potential on the bench early on and incorporated it into the game strategy for this year. By setting face-pace games, the Maroons hope to wear down opponents, pushing them to dip into reserves, and then overpower them with the fresh talent on their side. They focused the bulk of the offseason workout on building the defensive game. Last year they lagged behind opponents in blocks (97–41), steals (258–228), and total rebounds (1020-–990).

The team tips off the season hosting the ninth annual Midway Classic. The other three teams in the tournament field, St. Norbert, Ohio Wesleyan, and Whitman, are all picked to finish at the top of their leagues.

“This weekend will be a huge test for us,” Roussell said. “If we do what we’re capable of doing, where we end up will take care of itself.”

The Maroons play Saturday against St. Norbert, the reigning Midwest Conference champions. The two winners Saturday will match up Sunday with the remaining two facing off in the consolation game.

Their first league game comes after winter break on January 7 when they travel to St. Louis to face off against Wash U. The Bears, last season’s association champion at 22–5, 11–3, are currently ranked 14th in the NCAA. The UAA preseason coaches’ poll predicted Washington to take the title for the ninth straight time. The same poll had Chicago at fourth in the conference. The Maroons plan to contend with the best in the league, which has two teams listed in the NCAA’s top 25, and finish above last year’s standing.

“Right now we’re just going to take it one game at a time and see where we end up,” Roussell said.

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