While the rest of us were just beginning to recover from the dangerous effects of resting during winter break, the women's basketball team spent the weekend before classes in Holland, Michigan, where they faced both Kalamazoo and the fifth-ranked Hope College in the annual Hope Tournament. While the end results--56-65 and 47-74 losses, respectively--were less than perfect, the team feels that it nonetheless gained quite a bit from the experience of playing one of the nation's top teams. The losses leave the Maroons back at .500, with a 5-5 record and with conference play yet to start.
Prior to the weekend, Chicago had won four straight games and finished first in the St. Mary's tournament in South Bend, Indiana on December 7. The end of autumn quarter, however, gave the team a 12-day break, in which the team accumulated a good deal of rust, according to Maroon head coach Jennifer Kroll. "12 days off is difficult to recover from," said Kroll in an interview yesterday. In fact, even before the season, Kroll immediately saw the parallels between a long winter break and the loss of momentum coming out of halftime. Because of this, she chose to schedule the weekend's games as close as possible to Saturday's start of UAA conference play. The Maroons will indeed need to be well prepared to face their rivals in the UAA, which is this year's top-ranked conference in Division III. Bitter conference rival, Washington University of St. Louis, which is ranked first overall, will be in Henry Crown this Saturday and is doubtless the toughest test of the season for the Maroons. With the Hope game under its belt, the team feels it has learned from its mistakes and can certainly give Washington a game.
"Hope did us a favor," explained Kroll. "They told us exactly what we need to work on." The two most glaring weaknesses that Hope exposed were a lack of depth in the post and an uncomfortably large number of unforced turnovers. Against Hope alone the Maroons gave away the ball well over 20 times. Trouble in the post is not always an easy problem to solve, but errors in decision-making can be erased with more practice, more experience, and strong coaching. Right now the team is young and is making young mistakes. There are two starting first-years and six that play a fair amount of minutes. In addition, the team has recently been without fourth-year shooting guard Laura Hebel, who will be out for the foreseeable future with a torn ACL. Hebel set a good example with her on court leadership and smart shot selection.
One surprising development in Saturday's game was rebounding. Throughout the season, the Maroons have consistently outplayed their opponents around the boards, but Hope managed to gain control of 26 more rebounds than Chicago, thus stripping them of a strength they had counted on to that point.
"They were a better team," said Kroll, "but I know we have the ability to play with teams like that."
First-year guard Janae Winner led the Maroons in the game with 11 points, and was the only Chicago player to hit double digits. She also hit three out of five shots from beyond the arc.
According to Kroll, this year's squad has played more of a defensive style of basketball. While the Maroons have not been a prolific scoring machine, Kroll is still pleased with the way they are developing.
"Our focus has been to get better every game as a team, and I think we've done that," said Kroll. "We have a good group that gels well on and off the floor."
While this season is far from the finest moment in Chicago basketball, the youth of the team is showing promise and may surprise a few unsuspecting UAA opponents down the road.