High expectations for women’s basketball in 2012-13
The Calvin College women’s basketball team’s season is just over two weeks away, and the 2012-13 team is already hitting the gym.
“Tryouts finished about a week ago,” head coach John Ross said. “We are all anxious to get the season started.”
Coming off of a 28-2 campaign that led Calvin all the way to the national quarterfinals, the Knights were recently ranked preseason number one in the country by the Women’s Division III Basketball Newsletter.
The publication named Calvin senior Carissa Verkaik the preseason women’s D-III national player of the year. A season ago, Verkaik was runner-up for women’s D-III national player of the year.
Verkaik is humbled by the accolades, but is quick to mention they mean nothing in regard to the Knights’ season.
“The preseason accolades are great, but we haven’t proved anything yet,” Verkaik said. “The seniors know this is our last shot, and we want to leave it all out on the court.”
The six seniors are Verkaik, Ally Wolffis, Julia Hilbrands, Kelsey Irwin, Logan Marsh and Heather DeKleine.
This senior class has taken Calvin to three straight appearances in the NCAA D-III Women’s Basketball Tournament. Ross expects the seniors to lead the team to a fourth.
“We feel strong about this senior class,” said Ross. “We expect great years from Wolffis and Hilbrands. Heather DeKleine is coming back from an ACL injury suffered last season. She and Kelsey Irwin are both shooting the ball really well from distance. Logan Marsh has stepped up her intensity on defense.”
A season ago, Verkaik started at center in all 30 games a season ago, and averaged 19.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 blocked shots per game. She was named MIAA Most Valuable Player for the third consecutive year and earned a spot on the NCAA All-American First Team.
Hilbrands finished second on the 2011-12 team averaging 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. For her efforts, Hilbrands earned a spot on the All-MIAA First Team for the first time in her career.
Hilbrands is also a standout on the front row of Calvin’s volleyball team. If the volleyball team’s postseason run continues into the second and third week of November, the Knights basketball team may be without Hilbrands for the first week of the season.
Wolffis averaged 6.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in a starting role in the post a season ago. She averaged 16.1 minutes per game and shot 49 percent from the field for the season.
Irwin connected on a team high 53 three pointers a season ago. Irwin, who played primarily at shooting guard, was also very efficient, shooting over 41 percent from behind the three-point arc. She will see time in the rotation this upcoming season.
Marsh and DeKleine saw the floor sparingly a season ago. The two back court seniors both fight for time in the Knight’s rotation.
The junior class, although small in number, will have a big impact on the success of Calvin’s season. Kirstin Tripp averaged 15 minutes and 2.6 points per game as the backup point guard last season. She will likely start in the backcourt for the Knights. Danielle Kaputska transferred to Calvin from Aquinas last season. She saw limited court time as a guard a season ago, and will push for a spot in Calvin’s rotation this season.
Calvin has to replace two starters, Jill Thomas and Courtney Kurncz, from last season. Ross expects Tripp to step into her new position with confidence.
“We hope Kirstin Tripp can become a leader in a starting role this season,” Ross said. “She will need to fill some of the void Jill Thomas left. As for Danielle [Kaputska], she had a great offseason. She is more fit, and shooting the three extremely well.”
Four sophomores made the varsity squad for 2012-13. Kayla Engelhard started for Calvin at the point guard position in every game last season. She averaged 6.5 points and 2.0 assists per game. Engelhard will likely start in the backcourt for Calvin.
Breanna Verkaik played in all 30 games a season ago averaging 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. She will likely start at small forward.
Maria DeKuiper saw limited court time last season. A 2,000-point scorer during her career in high school, she will likely come off the bench and give rest to Carissa Verkaik, Wolffis and Hilbrands in the post.
Hannah Acre played on the junior varsity last season. She will fight for playing time this season.
Abby VanderWoude is in her first season in wearing the maroon and gold. A transfer from Trinity Christian College, VanderWoude led the Trolls in scoring six different games during the 2011-12 campaign.
Ross expects a strong performance from the sophomore class this season.
“We are going to start Kayla [Englehard] at the two guard to give her more opportunities to score,” said Ross. “Breanna [Verkaik] is going to move to the starting small forward position. Hannah [Acre] and Maria [DeKuiper] are both stronger and more fit this year. Abby is doing a pretty good job in practice for us right now. She will give us good depth in the post.”
Two freshmen, Kally Verkaik and Abby Springer could make an impact on the varsity this season.
“Both are very athletic and very hard workers,” said Ross. “Kally [Verkaik] works her tail off every day in practice. Abby [Springer] can handle the ball and shoot the three well. It will be exciting to see them progress over the course of the season.”
The non-conference schedule for the Knights is daunting. Calvin starts off with two opponents it faced in last season’s NCAA Tournament, St. Thomas (MN) and Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Both are ranked in the top five nationally to start the season. Calvin defeated Stevens-Point 76-71 in the second round and fell to St. Thomas 83-72 in overtime in the national quarterfinals.
The Knights will also face Manchester College, a team Calvin beat by just five points a season ago, as well as Centre College (IA) and Thomas More (KY).
Carissa Verkaik acknowledges that the non-conference schedule will be tough, but is excited about the opportunity to play tough teams early in the season.
“We have a very tough non-conference schedule this season,” Verkaik said. “In years past, we have not been tested as much early in the season. This season, we have a chance to play in an NCAA Tournament atmosphere which will help us prepare for the conference season and beyond.”
The conference schedule for the Knights starts off Nov. 28 against Albion, a team that finished third in the MIAA a season ago. Calvin’s two matchups with rival Hope are Jan. 12 and Feb. 16. Calvin will host Hope in the first meeting at Calvin’s Van Noord Arena, a place where the Knights defeated the Flying Dutch twice last season. The Knights will then travel to the DeVos Fieldhouse in February.
According to Ross, there will not be any easy victories in the MIAA.
“All the coaches do a phenomenal job recruiting and coaching in-game,” Ross said. “It is scary to play any game on the road. We have to be ready to play our best each game each and every night.”
The expectations are high for the 2012-13 version of Calvin women’s basketball, but Ross is quick to point out the expectations are not the only thing on his team’s mind.
“We hope to continue to grow in our faith and continue to do well in the classroom. This group continues to strive for excellence in every facet of their lives. It will be a fun season, but we have a lot of challenges ahead of us.”