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Despite recording a solid 17–8 record last season, women’s basketball fell short of their goals. Now they are hoping that the experience gained in that campaign will help them achieve greater success this year.
Chicago’s success during head coach Aaron Roussell’s five-year tenure has created lofty expectations within the Maroons’ locker room. Chicago (1–0) enjoyed its first UAA championship in two decades and an appearance in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen two years ago. By comparison, missing the NCAA tournament last season and going 8–6 in conference were disappointments.
But Chicago only lost one player from last year’s squad to graduation—second-leading scorer Alex Leach—so this year’s team is full of players with game experience. In particular, Roussell is looking to his large class of fourth-years for leadership.
“We have a really nice group of seniors that has played a lot over the past four years,” he said.
One of the benefits of having so many experienced returnees is that Chicago won’t be reliant on any one player to produce points.
“We were a team last year that had a lot of contributors and that will be the case this year,” Roussell said. “On any given night, any of eight or nine players could lead us in scoring.”
The Maroons’ balance was on display in their season opener against Olivet. Second-year guard Meghan Herrick led the way for Chicago with 13 points, but each of the other four starters made a significant contribution, too. The other two starting guards, fourth-year Jamie Stinson and second-year Bryanne Halfhill, chipped in 11 and eight points, respectively, and the posts—second-year Taylor Simpson and fourth-year Molly Hackney—scored seven apiece. In all, 12 Maroons found their way onto the score sheet.
Not only is Chicago more experienced this year, but Roussell also feels that many of his players have improved significantly through the off-season.
“I think that a lot of the players that came back are better players than they were last year,” he said.
The drawback to having such a wealth of upperclassmen is that there may not be much opportunity for Chicago’s first-years to make their mark.
“It’s a tough year for our freshmen,” Roussell said.
As the season progresses, Chicago’s focus will be making certain that their talent does not go to waste and that the team takes full advantage of its abilities. Despite defeating Olivet comfortably, Roussell feels his team could have performed better.
“We just need to come out and show our potential. We came out Sunday and didn’t play well,” Roussell said. “We didn’t play as aggressively as I hoped we would.”
Next up for the Maroons is the four-team Midway Classic tournament, which will be played at Ratner tomorrow and Sunday. Coe (1–0) and Elmhurst (1–0) open play tomorrow at 2 p.m., and Chicago faces St. Mary’s (0–1) at 4 p.m. The winners and losers on Saturday will be paired for Sunday’s championship and consolation games.
St. Mary’s is an unknown entity for Chicago, as the schools haven’t met on the hardwood since 2000, but the Cardinals will look familiar in at least one way: Like Chicago last year, St. Mary’s has only one fourth year on its roster, forward Kim Kaminski.
That fact, combined with the 84–47 loss the Cardinals took in their season opener might give the illusion that St. Mary’s will be a pushover for the hosts. However, that lopsided loss came against D-II Winona State, which beat D-I schools Minnesota and South Dakota State earlier this year in exhibitions. Knowing this, Roussell and the Maroons won’t be taking the Cardinals lightly.
“They definitely have a lot of talent in those younger classes,” he said.
If Chicago manages to win what promises to be a competitive Midway Classic, it will bode well for the team’s chances of returning to a much bigger tournament: the NCAA.
“Once you get to the tourney you can make some noise. Anything can happen. You just got to get in,” Roussell said.