Women’s basketball looks to avenge last season

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ZACH READ

Pickens talks to her team in a huddle during the team's first scrimmage on Oct. 19.

Dean Paolucci, Reporter

The Ashland University women’s basketball team is ready to begin the 2018-19 season, a season that is intriguing for the Eagles.

The Eagles finished last season in a 66-52 loss to the University of Central Missouri in the Division II Women’s National Championship game. The loss snapped a 73-game win streak for the Eagles, as well as a chance to be back-to-back Division II National Champions.

“I think something that we took from that loss is that nothing is guaranteed,” head coach Kari Pickens said. “Our focus this year has got to be not just focusing on the end goal, but coming in everyday and getting better every single day in practice.”

Pickens will be leading the Eagles as a first year head coach to start the season. She was an assistant for the Eagles for five seasons and was promoted to associate head coach at the beginning of last season under former head coach Robyn Fralick.

ZACH READ
The Eagles prepare for a season with high expectations after two consecutive national championship appearances.

Pickens played for the Eagles under former head coach Sue Ramsey and was a huge impact from 2011-13, becoming one of the best statistical players in Ashland history, recording 1,414 points.

“With coach Ramsey, I took away how important relationships are and really forming that trust with my players,” Pickens said. “With coach Fralick, I took away the importance of honesty and direct communication. I think those are some things, as a leader of a program, that you have to do well to put your team in a position to be successful.”

In what will be her first year, Pickens has one large goal for her team, being the best rebounding team in the nation.

“I hope whenever I leave as a coach, I can say that our teams did that really well and hopefully that will be a hallmark for us,” Pickens said.

Pickens views the mentality of the returning players as a very good opportunity to see them grow. The Eagles bring back three starters from last season including junior guard Renee Stimpert, senior guard Maddie Dackin, and junior guard Jodi Johnson.

Some of the other players who came off the bench last year include senior guard Brooke Smith, junior forward Sara Loomis, sophomore forward Karlee Pireu, and junior guard Sarah Hart.

ZACH READ
Sara Loomis takes up the ball during practice.

“My expectation for the girls coming in who have experience is to do the little things well everyday,” Pickens said. “I never want to have to coach about effort or toughness and those are the things that I expect out of them.”

While Pickens wants to determine the pace of play by being a force on the rebounding end of the ball, the Eagles lose two of the best rebounders in Ashland history.

Forward Laina Snyder, who ranks first in career rebounds with 1,207, and forward Andi Daugherty, who ranks third in career rebounds with 923. The Eagles lose those two from a rebounding end, but also from a scoring end with both players having combined for 4,310 career points in their time at AU.

One of the returning players who seems to be the main source of offense for the Eagles will be junior forward Jodi Johnson. Johnson begins the season coming off a career year last season, averaging 19 points a game and leading the nation with 3.7 steals per game.

Johnson was named the WBCA Division II Player of the Year and the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season.

“Accolades like those obviously do not come without great teammates,” Johnson said. “I feel like being surrounded by great teammates made that even more special.”

Johnson made a large impact on the offensive end of the floor last year, but the defense and the passion for the game is a staple of her game.

“I feel as though I am a very focused person,” Johnson said. “That just goes along with having fun and loving the game and loving the people I am playing with.”

One of the leaders to start the season will be senior guard Maddie Dackin, who averaged 10.9 point per game last season and has seen a large amount of experience over the past two seasons.

“Going into my final year, the priority is going to be leadership,” Dackin said. “Being able to help the younger girls with all the experience that I have had. Having the other girls on the team who are upperclassmen with experience gives us a chance to help those younger girls on the team.”

The Eagles have an abundance of younger players and newcomers to the team this season, six players to be precise. Sophomore forward Sara Price enters the season as a transfer from Ball State University being one of the bigger names entering the season.

With only a few practices in the books, the amount of playing time that the younger players for the Eagles will receive is still undecided.

“I think that should be determined still, but I have been very pleased with their effort and their performance in practice,” Pickens said on the younger players. “We have a lot of really talented players coming in and so I am excited to see how they develop within our system here at Ashland.”

The Eagles begin their preseason play when the team travels to Purdue University to take on the Boilermakers in an exhibition game on Nov. 4th. Pickens sees this as a tremendous opportunity for her team taking on a Division I women’s team.

“It’s a great experience for our girls to be able to go into an atmosphere of a Big Ten school and play against a Division I team that is maybe a little more athletic than us and play against a crowd like that,” Pickens said. “Purdue always has a phenomenal following, and I think that having that experience will test where we are at right now and it allows us to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses early in the year.”

The preseason exhibition matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers is set to begin at 2 p.m. on Nov. 4th and will be broadcasted live on 88.9 WRDL at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.