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2013-14 Calvin Women’s Basketball Outlook

Friday, November 01, 2013

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Calvin Women's Bball Preseason Audio Interview With John Ross

By Mark DeHaan

The Calvin women’s basketball team enjoyed its most successful stretch in program history from the fall of 2009 to the spring of 2013, accumulating 100 victories and losing only 16 contests. The Knights earned national tournament berths all four years, advancing as far as the Elite Eight in March of 2012.

And, it will come as no surprise to those who have followed Calvin women’s basketball that the impressive four year span aligned with the career of Carissa Verkaik, the 2012-13 Division III player of the year, four-time All-American, four-time MIAA MVP, and Calvin record holder in career points, career rebounds, and career blocked shots.

While the Knights will look to move on this season without Verkaik, it also does so without a pair of All-MIAA first team selections in Julia Hilbrands and Ally Wolffis, the most potent three-point shooter in Knights history in Kelsey Irwin, a strong on-ball defender in Logan Marsh, and a smart point guard and distributor in Heather DeKleine.

“We lost a group of seniors that won 100 games in four years – I don’t think a group like that will ever be duplicated,” said head coach John Ross. “That is a class that you just can’t replace, and we just have to move forward and do the best we can with the players we have right now.”

While Calvin graduated six irreplaceable seniors, the Knights return three starters from a team last season that went 23-4.

“Even though we did graduate six of our top ten we still have three starters returning (in senior Kirstin Tripp and juniors Kayla Engelhard and Breanna Verkaik),” said Ross. “Kayla, Kirsten, and Breanna, all three of which are our captains, have been through really, really big games in the last couple years, so that is helpful to have returners that can handle the ball. Hopefully that is where one of our strengths is this year.”

Engelhard was second on the team last year with nine points per game while also recording 3.1 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists per game. Verkaik averaged 5.4 points per game and shot the three-pointer at a .379 clip, while Tripp scored 3.4 points per game.

Calvin also returns five other players that saw minutes last year due to the Knights ability to get ahead by large margins early in games.

“And with our margin of victory last year, (junior) Abby Vander Woude, (sophomore) Abby Springer, (junior) Maria DeKuiper, (sophomore) Kally Verkaik, and (junior) Hannah Acre all got a lot of minutes,” said Ross. “It’s not like a lot of the people that will be playing didn’t see the floor at all last year so that really does help us.”

Ross said that one piece of last year’s offense that will be missed the most is the team’s ability to hit quick threes and increase their lead. Irwin was an obvious part of that, stepping off the bench to make 61 three-pointers last season while Marsh made 25 while shooting 44.6%.

“I think the one thing that we will miss a lot more was bringing Kelsey Irwin off the bench and before you know it she had two or three threes,” said Ross. “You could just run a couple quick hitters for her, so that is six to nine points in a half that we are losing without having her.

Losing a pair of top three-point shooters, Calvin’s current roster will have to improve on its long-range game if it wants to provide a similar impact. Current Knights shot 71-of-236 last season from behind the arc.

“As far as threes go, we just have to make really good plays and get deep penetration so players can get spotted up,” said Ross. “I think our percentage could be decent we just have to make a lot better plays to get wide open looks.”

The Knights will look like a different team compared to year’s past, and with a new look comes growing pains.

While goals often consist of wins or titles, Ross says the team is focusing on one day at a time and improving in practice every day.

“Our biggest goal is to come to practice every day with a good attitude and work as hard as we can,” said Ross. “We’re throwing in a new defensive system and a new offensive system, and we just have to play harder than everyone else and be real patient with the system (we’re implementing).”

Calvin opens its season on November 15 when it travels to Lakeland College for a non-conference game. The conference season begins in earnest on November 19 when the Knights host rival Hope inside Van Noord Arena.

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