Women’s Basketball preview

Women%27s+Basketball+preview

Bree Gannon

Noah Cloonan

After a historic undefeated season last year, the Ashland University Eagles women’s basketball team is set to embark upon their journey for a second straight national title.

The Eagles finished last year as the fourth team in NCAA division II history to finish a season undefeated as they defeated Virginia Union in the national championship game, 93-77.

Now the Eagles will have a chance to repeat as champions in 2017-18 and they will be tested early on.

Last year, Ashland started their season with a 9-point exhibition loss to the Ohio State University Buckeyes. This season, head coach Robyn Fralick will use their matchup with Ohio State on Oct. 29 to prepare them for the biggest exhibition game in school history, a date with the greatest division I dynasty of all time, the University of Connecticut Huskies.

“I think it shows a lot that they respect our team enough to play us again,” Senior Julie Worley said about Ohio State. “I think it’s a great opportunity and experience that we are all excited to take advantage of.”

Ashland will play two of the top programs in the country in a span of seven days before the regular season even begins.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Fralick said. “We are gonna be playing two of the best teams in the country and then with UCONN one of the best programs of all time men or women. We want to be able to build momentum off of these.”

While the Eagles enjoyed the greatest season in program history last year, Fralick said that it is important that her team can switch their focus to this year.

“We need to be able to reference last year a template because there were so many things that were right and good about last year by this year we want to be sure that we are writing our own story,” Fralick said. “We want to climb the same mountain, but take a different path.”

Senior Julie Worley said that Ashland is not dwelling on their success from last year and realizes that they have a new goal to accomplish this year.

“I think something that we’re really focusing on this year is not comparing ourselves to last year and just making our own journey for this year and with this years team making it special,” Worley said.

For Ashland, the biggest positive going into the year is that the Eagles will enter the season as the only team in the country to return two all-american players from the year before.

Ashland brings back Andi Daugherty and Laina Snyder for their senior season.

Last year the Eagles set a DII record scoring 3,456 points during the season and the three top scorers will be back in the purple and gold in 2017.

Snyder led the way for the Eagles last year averaging 17.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Daugherty was not far behind scoring 15.5 ppg and grabbing 5.7 rpg.

“It feels like it’s time to be a senior,” Laina Snyder said. “We have been here for a while now and stepping into new roles and with the seniors gone from last year it just feels right to be in that senior position.”

Ashland also brings back the reigning GLIAC freshman of the year, Jodi Johnson.

Johnson had no issues adapting to the college game as she scored 12.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg and added another elite scorer to the backcourt.

Worley will return as well to offer depth off the best bench in the country. Worley averaged over 10 ppg and over 5 rpg off the bench for AU and played the most minutes of any bench player.

AU also returns a pair of other key freshmen in Renee Stimpert and Sara Loomis. Both freshmen played over 10 minutes per game for the Eagles.

Juniors Maddie Dackin and Brooke Smith will also be back. Dackin may have been the most improved player from 2016 to last season as she averaged 8.4 ppg and shot over 43% from behind the arc.

Dackin will have big shoes to fill this season as she will attempt to fill the void left by Kelsey Peare, the nation’s leading three-point shooter from a year ago. Another hole in the starting lineup for AU is at the point guard position due to the graduation of Alex Henning who started for over two seasons for the Eagles and played nearly 22 mpg last season.

Rachelle Morrison also graduated for the Eagles.

Ashland will look to replace the three seniors that they lost from last year by bringing in three new faces.

Sarah Hart will join the Eagles for her sophomore season after playing for division I St. Bonaventure last year. Hart played in 29 games for the Bonnies and averaged 5.0 ppg and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Hart, who is originally from Elgin, MN was a former miss basketball nominee in the state of Minnesota and will look to bolster the Eagles backcourt.

Another new face in the backcourt for Ashland is freshmen Maddie Blyer. Blyer hails from North Canton, OH where she dominated on the court for North Canton Hoover.

She was named second team All-Ohio and led her team Sweet 16 in her senior campaign.

Karlee Pireu will add more depth to the wing for AU as the 5-11 forward will join the Eagles from Massillon Perry high school.

Pireu, a third team All-Ohio selection, will add more length on the outside for the Eagles and adds yet another scoring threat to the best offense in the country from a year ago.

Fralick is very happy with the way that the newcomers have performed early on in the preseason.

“What stood out to me initially about them is they’ve just assimilated well they’re workers, they’re winners theyre eager, they’re eager to learn and they all bring something different to the team,” she said. “What we expect out of anyone in our program is they’re gonna work hard and be a good teammate and they’ve done those things very well and when you do that you see transformation. You see transformation in them as players and then you see transformation in them as people and so I’m excited because they’ve really bought into being a good teammate.”

Despite the historic season last year, the Eagles are not settling this year.

“We couldn’t settle this summer,” Daugherty said. “We worked so hard coming off of our sophomore year catapulting us into junior year and we knew we had to do that this summer. As a team I really think we spent this summer getting better.”

Ashland opens the regular season on the road at Cedarville University where they will take on Ohio Dominican on Nov. 10.

AU has a couple of marquee matchups on the year including a Nov. 24 matchup with the 2016 national champion, Lubbock Christian in San Antonio, TX.

The Eagles will also host non-conference Bellarmine on Dec. 30 for one of their biggest home games of the season.

Grand Valley State will come to town on Jan. 11 to try and avenge their trio of losses from last season.

The Eagles will open up their home schedule against Notre Dame (OH) on Nov. 14. The game will begin at 6 p.m. and the Eagles will receive their 2017 National Championship rings at 5:30 p.m. during the pregame festivities.