After claiming their second Mid-Continent Conference regular season title in school history and making an unprecedented run advancing to the quarterfinals of the Women's National Invitation Tournament, the Valparaiso University women's basketball team will look to continue its success on the hardcourt in 2002-2003.
Head coach Keith Freeman returns six players from last year's championship team, and will look to blend experience with youth as the Crusaders look to defend their title.
Jeanette Gray returns as the lone senior on the squad. The Valparaiso native was a Second Team All Mid-Continent Conference selection as a junior, averaging a team-leading 12.6 points per game. The 5'10" forward also led the team in steals (2.2 per game) and was second in rebounding (6.9 per game).
A Pre-Season First Team selection this season, Gray will look to break out with her best season yet in a Brown and Gold uniform. She will move inside at times this year, and look to knock down shots from midrange as well.
The Crusaders backcourt has the capability to rank among the best in the Mid-Con. Kathryn Knoester has proven to be one of the conference's top defenders, along with contributing 7.4 ppg last season. One of two juniors on the team, Knoester, along with classmate Suzie Hammel, will help Gray provide upper-class leadership for Valpo.
Not only a top defender, Knoester also is one of Valpo's best at feeding the post. She will look to improve her shooting ability this season to become an all-around threat for the Crusaders.
Hammel returns to the court after missing all of the postseason last year with a knee injury. The 5'8" guard led the Mid-Con with 2.41 three-pointers per game last season, and scored 10.0 ppg for the Brown and Gold.
Valpo's top perimeter shooter, Hammel is still recovering from surgery, and continues to improve as time passes.
Sophomore Katie Boone completes the trio of returning guards for the Crusaders. The Mid-Continent Conference Newcomer of the Year, and a member of the All-Tournament Team one season ago, she led the conference in assist/turnover ratio (1.88), while also leading the team with 3.9 assists per game.
A Preseason Second Team All Mid-Con selection, Boone will handle the point guard duties for the Brown and Gold. On the defensive side of the ball, she is one of the most intense players the Crusaders have.
In the paint a pair of sophomores return for their second season. Jenna Stangler produced one of her best games as a Crusader in the postseason, while Meredith Baugher provided key depth to the Valpo frontcourt. Each will be expected to step up and play a major role in the Brown and Gold's 2002-2003 campaign.
Stangler will be looked upon to step up in scoring in 2002-2003. A skilled player, she will try to help replace all-conference selections Amber Schober and Marlous Nieuwveen, both of whom were among Valpo's top scorers last season. She has battled off-season back problems, but looks to be ready to go by opening night.
Baugher has the opportunity to take over the post for the Brown and Gold. She returns in great shape and will look to contribute down low for Valpo.
Freeman's recruits will need to step in early and prove to play a major role this season if the Crusaders are going to defend their title. Guards Lauren Bechtold, Jamie Gutowski, and Devin Reed should add even more depth to the backcourt.
Bechtold will be looked upon to play the point alongside Boone. A highly competitive athlete, she is a solid jump shooter. Bechtold also penetrates off of the dribble well, opening up her teammates for shots.
Gutowski is a shooting guard with a quality rhythm jump shot. She is an unselfish team player that will also add to the Crusaders defense.
An athletic perimeter player, Reed has the ability to play both the two and three positions for the Crusaders. She is always willing to learn and should make an impact for Valpo when she learns the system.
Valpo has also added a pair of forwards in Mayella Kuikhoven and Krystal Taylor, along with adding center Dawn Vander Meer for the upcoming season.
Kuikhoven is a 6'1" forward from The Netherlands who will play the four position for the Crusaders. She can shoot the three as well as score inside. Kuikhoven handles the ball well for a forward and is a good passer. Her strength will help her defend in the post.
Taylor is a physical and athletic player that will see time down low. She has great potential as a rebounder and as a defender.
Vander Meer is a 6'3" center that has a knack for scoring around the basket. She can also be a threat to score from midrange. A quick learner, as she becomes stronger Vander Meer will develop into a very competitive post.
Freeman has also added a pair of walk-ons to the roster for the coming season.
Heather Furr is a 5'8" guard who is a great team player. She is a hard worker that has a great deal of commitment to helping make the team better.
Megan Bess is a 5'11" forward who can play at both the off-guard and small forward positions. She is an outstanding shooter who has been battling leg and back problems in the early going. She has great strength to add to the team.
The Crusaders schedule may be one of the most difficult ones in school history. Valpo has the potential to play seven games against teams that participated in the post-season last year.
The Brown and Gold open play on November 23 at the Spartan Chevrolet Classic. In the first round the Crusaders will face Miami (Ohio), a team that has defeated Valpo in overtime each of the last two seasons. The Crusaders also have the potential to face the host Spartans, a Women's National Invitation Tournament semifinalist last year.
The Crusaders will then travel to Texas Tech, a Sweet Sixteen team last year, the day before Thanksgiving. Valpo's home opener is on November 30 when Concordia (Wis.) visits the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The Crusaders will host Notre Dame on December 4 before traveling to Indianapolis for the Hoosier State Classic and a rematch with Ball State, a team that Valpo defeated in the WNIT last year.
The Brown and Gold will receive a visit from DePaul, another WNIT team, on December 13 and also entertain Indiana Wesleyan and Lehigh during the non-conference schedule. Valpo will also take to the road for battles with Loyola (Ill.), Jacksonville, and Lipscomb.
Mid-Continent Conference action begins on January 11 when Western Illinois visits the ARC. Valpo will host Oakland, the Mid-Con Tournament champions, on February 24 in the final home contest of the season. The Brown and Gold end their regular season at UMKC, before competing in the Mid-Con Tournament March 8-11 at Kansas City's Kemper Arena.
With six returnees and a host of new faces, the challenge is a difficult one if Valparaiso hopes to defend its Mid-Continent Conference title. A challenging non-conference slate should help prepare the Crusaders for the rigors of Mid-Con play and a chance to add yet another banner to the ceiling of the Athletics-Recreation Center.