As the 2010-2011 women’s basketball season tips off at Valparaiso University, the Crusaders will have a new youthful look to this year’s squad. Head coach Keith Freeman brought in six new faces to campus this year and will look for them to blend with eight returnees.
Valpo looks to improve upon last year’s 9-21 overall record and 6-12 mark in Horizon League play, in which the Crusaders finished tied for seventh place overall. This year the Brown and Gold has been picked ninth in the preseason poll, leaving Freeman’s squad in a position to surprise the rest of the league.
Freeman is set to begin his 17th season on the Crusader bench and 23rd overall coaching women’s collegiate basketball. With a career record of 398-249, he is poised to surpass the 400-win plateau this winter. Freeman has won 269 games on the Valpo sidelines, and has the most victories in program history.
Assistant coaches Greg Kirby and Christy Smith return to Freeman’s staff again this season, along with the addition of Steve Helm. Kirby and Smith have been with the program for five and three years now respectively, while Helm arrives from Ancilla College where he was the head coach of the men’s program for the past five years. Also new to the Crusader coaching staff is graduate assistant Maggie Acuna, who played collegiately at Illinois from 2003-2006.
The Crusaders will be without the services of senior Ashley Varner heading into the 2010-2011 season, as the South Bend, Ind. native had surgery on her knee this fall. She plans to redshirt this season though, and will utilize her final year of eligibility in 2011-2012.
Varner would have been the Crusaders’ top returning post player after averaging 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game a year ago. Last year she tallied double figures in the scoring column nine times, and pulled down seven or more rebounds in nine games as well.
Valpo’s other senior post has also been battling injury during the offseason, but hopes to be back in time to make her presence felt. Kelly Watts averaged 6.2 points and a team-leading 5.9 boards per contest last year, her first season since transferring to the Crusader program. She had knee surgery two years ago while sitting out this season after transferring from Eastern Michigan University, and battled back to start 16 games last season. Watts had a pair of double-doubles a year ago, and upon regaining her health this year will look to regain that same form.
Guard Rashida Ray will be relied upon this year to provide more minutes than she has played in the past. Playing the point, her senior leadership will be looked upon to guide the talented group of newcomers that Freeman has brought in this year. A year ago Ray more than doubled her career minute total while turning in career highs in total points, rebounds, and assists. She is also an outstanding free throw shooter, connecting at nearly 82% for her career.
The fourth Crusader senior, Stephanie Thomas, has been the consummate teammate for four years. A role model in attitude both on and off the court, Thomas has made the most of her opportunities, averaging nearly a point every three minutes of action during her first three seasons with the Brown and Gold.
Valpo’s top returning scorer, Betsy Adams averaged 11.4 points per game for the Crusaders as a sophomore. The junior guard is a 34.2% career three-point shooter, and drained 64 triples one year ago. Adams averaged over 30 minutes a game for the Brown and Gold in 2010-2011, leading the team in time on the court. A proficient free throw shooter, Adams averaged nearly 86% from the charity stripe one year ago.
The only other junior on the Crusader roster for the upcoming senior is transfer Ashley Timmerman. Timmerman arrives at Valpo from Parkland College where she was a Third Team NJCAA All-American. She averaged 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season for the Cobras while handing out 4.4 assists per night. A five-foot, eight-inch guard, Timmerman can shoot from outside, connecting on 78 three-pointers during her sophomore season. She’ll look to make an immediate impact in the Valpo lineup.
Valpo’s sophomore class will be relied upon heavily this season if the Crusaders are to have success on the hardwood. All three gained considerable experience during their rookie season, and will be called upon to play even more minutes for the Brown and Gold this year.
Laura Richards ran the point a majority of her freshman season, leading Valpo with 2.9 assists per game. She also led the Crusaders with 38 steals a year ago, and her 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked her third in the Horizon League. As a guard, Richards also got to the glass with some regularity, pulling down 2.5 boards per contest.
Skyler Gick showed the ability to create her own shot during her rookie season. She scored in double figures three times last year in addition to averaging two assists per contest. A five-foot, eight-inch guard, Gick blocked six shots as a freshman while also shooting nearly 37% from three-point range.
The final Crusader sophomore, Gina Lange, got her first taste of collegiate hoops last year, and will be called upon to provide more production in the post this year. She appeared in 16 contests in 2010-2011, scoring a season-high eight points and grabbing seven rebounds. Lange shot 42.3% from the floor a year ago and will look to score more this year, testing her inside presence.
Freeman has brought in five talented freshmen that will be looking to make their mark not only on the program but in the Horizon League. Maegan Callaway was a Miss Basketball nominee at Mooresville High School last year as a senior, and earned First Team All-State honors in Indiana. Her school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,380 career points, the six-footer led the state with 94 blocked shots last year.
Tabitha Gerardot was a two-time state finals Most Valuable Player in Indiana in Class A and finished third in the Miss Basketball voting last year. Also a First Team All-State selection in Indiana, she led Fort Wayne’s Canterbury High School to three straight state titles. She set the finals rebounding record with 17 both in 2008 and 2009.
Liz Horton, a forward, was a four-time All-Conference selection for Barr-Reeve High School. She earned Honorable Mention All-State honors in Indiana as both a junior and senior, and finished her prep career with 1,266 career points. She set her school’s career three-point percentage record, connecting on 42% from beyond the arc.
Local product Stefanie Lang stays in her hometown as she joins the Crusader program. The Valparaiso High School product was an Honorable Mention All-State selection for the Vikings and a three-time All-Duneland Conference pick. She set her school’s school record with 197 career blocked shots, including 90 in one season.
Valpo’s final freshman, Erika Lang, joined the program this fall as a walk-on from Las Vegas, Nev. She set the school’s record for scoring at Arbor View High School and earned Second Team All-Northwest Conference honors last year.
As it is every season, Valparaiso’s schedule is a challenging one. The Brown and Gold open the year Nov. 12 at DePaul in the first round of the Preseason WNIT. The game against the Blue Demons is one of four against foes from the Big East Conference this year. The Crusaders will host Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati at the Athletics-Recreation Center as part of the team’s best home slate in program history.
Ball State visits the ARC on Nov. 24 for the Crusaders’ home opener with Chicago State also coming to Valparaiso during non-conference action. The Brown and Gold’s road swing stops at Evansville for a tournament in early December alongside Coastal Carolina and Central Michigan. The Crusaders also visit IPFW and Eastern Illinois during non-conference play.
The Horizon League slate begins on Jan. 2 when Valpo faces in state rival Butler in Indianapolis, the first of three straight road contests to begin conference action. The 18-game league schedule wraps up with Butler on March 5 prior to tournament commencing two days later.
With a challenging schedule and a youthful squad, exciting times are in store for the Crusaders in 2010-2011. Leaders will emerge as Valpo looks to climb the Horizon League ladder. The six newcomers will look to make an immediate impact, while the returnees hope to guide the youth. The atmosphere at the Athletics-Recreation Center should be electric this year with the quality of opponents visiting the Crusaders. All of this combined raises the optimism for the 2010-2011 for the Brown and Gold.