Women’s basketball begins with championship in mind

Womens basketball begins with championship in mind

Coaches and players alike are looking forward to the upcoming TCU women’s basketball season, which officially starts Wednesday when the Lady Frogs take on Cameron University in an exhibition game.

The 2009-2010 team features talent, experience and depth. There are seven healthy returners from last year’s team, six of who are juniors and seniors. The Frogs are led by guards like senior Eboni Mangum, who went down midway through the 2008-2009 season with a torn ACL; senior TK LaFleur (14.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), a 2008 All-Mountain West Conference second selection; Helena Sverrisdottir (15.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), a 2008 All-MWC first team selection; and sophomore guard Antoinette Thompson. The star returner is junior forward Emily Carter(11.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), an All-MWC second team selection. Upperclassmen posts Chantelle John (3.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg), Rachel Rentschler (7.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Micah Garoutte (6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg) round out the solid core of veteran leaders. The returners’ contributions will be crucial for the team’s success.

LaFleur said she has made significant changes in the way she leads.

“I’m working on being more vocal,” LaFleur said. “I really wasn’t much of a vocal leader last year, I led by example. I’ve worked on being more vocal and helping get everybody on the same page.”

Carter said she has also made an effort to improve as a leader.

“I’ve been trying to kind of help everybody out,” Carter said. “If the freshmen are having a bad day, I want to be a person they can come to in confidence to help them out when they’re down.”

Sverrisdottir said last year’s disappointing early exit from the NCAA tournament was a learning experience. The team learned that it must play with consistency, she said.

“It was a big experience for all of us to be in the NCAA tournament,” Sverrisdottir said. “I think we kind of look back at is as something that we can learn from, how we have to be mentally prepared for everything and bring our game out every night.”

While the Frogs return most of last year’s team, LaFleur said they are still making changes to integrate the new four new additions, guards Hannah Christian and Ida Tryggedsson, and forwards Starr Crawford and Delisa Gross.

“I feel like we’ve been trying to get (the freshmen) adjusted as quick as possible so they can become a big part of our team,” LaFleur said. “As leaders, we’ve been trying to get everybody involved and make sure everybody is working hard every day.”

The freshmen add an aspect the team didn’t have much of last year: bench depth, she said.

“We can put anyone in our lineup in the game and feel comfortable and confident they’ll do the things we need to get the job done,” LaFleur said.

Sverrisdottir said the four freshmen additions to the team have increased the level of competition in practice, which has helped the returning players improve.

“(The freshmen) work really hard, and I’m really pleased with how much effort they’ve been putting into practice,” Sverrisdottir said. “They’re really physical, and that’s something we needed last year.”

Carter said because the team has many good players this year, the team is competing on a higher level.

The team is focused on being more physical, which has required more effort, Carter said. She has made more efforts to improve on the defensive end as the team plans to use more man-to-man defense this season, she said.

What the Lady Frogs really want this year, though, is a Mountain West Conference championship. Carter was quick to mention that the women’s basketball program has not won a Mountain West Conference title yet, and LaFleur and Sverrisdottir both said it was the team’s ultimate goal heading into the end of the season.

To achieve that goal, the team will have to battle some tough competition. This year’s non-conference schedule, much like last year’s, which featured teams like Maryland, California, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, will be difficult. It also includes games featuring Oklahoma, Minnesota and North Carolina State. Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Minnesota were one, two and 10 seeds in the NCAA tournament, respectively.

The Frogs beat Maryland and California last year, both of which were No. 3 in the nation at the time, but they fell to unranked Oklahoma State and No. 3 Texas A&M on the road.

Sverrisdottir said that doing well in non-conference games would show the nation that the team deserves recognition.

“In order to show ourselves, show our fans and show the country that we’re a good basketball program, we have to come out every night and bring it all,” she said.

The Mountain West isn’t much easier. TCU was one of three MWC teams in the NCAA tournament last year, and they’re all returning significant contributors. Of those teams, San Diego State figures to be the greatest threat. The Aztecs’ returners include senior guard Jené Morris (16.1 ppg, 3.33 spg), the 2008 MWC defensive player of the year, junior forward Paris Johnson (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 1.74 bpg), junior forward Ashley Duffy (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 2.1 spg), and senior point guard Quenese Davis (5.3 apg, 2.29 spg).

Utah returns forward Kalee Whipple (17.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.18 spg), a 2008 first team All-MWC selection; senior forward Halie Sawyer (7.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.21 bpg); and Janita Badon(3.2 ppg, 2.5 apg), who was a spark off the bench last year.

LaFleur said the conference is so deep that “any given day, you can beat anybody, and any given day you can be beaten by anybody.”

But the Lady Frogs are confident in their chances to win the MWC championship and return to the NCAA tournament.

“(The championship is) something we’re striving for, and it’s what everyone wants,” LaFleur said. “Right now, we’re preparing for that moment. We’re putting ourselves in the best possible position to get that end result.”

“We want to look back and think we’re already at that limit,” Sverrisdottir said. “We don’t want to think that we should have worked harder.”

Associate head coach Brian Ostermann said the team’s experience would be to its favor.

“There’s a certain comfort level to knowing what your expectations are on both ends of the floor,” he said.

Offensively, Ostermann said the players are more comfortable as the team moves into its second year using the triangle offense. Conditioning has played a role, too, he said.

“From a physical standpoint, the returnees have gotten themselves into better shape,” he said. “They’re stronger, they’re playing more physical, and because they’re doing such a great job in the weight room, they’re not only stronger, but they’re a little quicker.”

Ostermann also acknowledged the team’s goal to win the Mountain West Conference championship title.

“I think finishing a game out of first last year, the players know that we’re close, and that we want to make that final jump to winning a conference title,” he said.

For that to take place, Ostermann said the team must “build on team chemistry from a team standpoint. From a statistical point, we must keep in mind how important rebounding is.”

Also, the team will have to utilize its strengths, which he said are three-point shooting, transition and ball protection.