Valparaiso (2-6, 0-0 MVC)
Game #9 - Dec. 22, 2022 - noon
at Wisconsin (4-9, 0-2 Big Ten)
Kohl Center (17,287) - Madison, Wis.
Next Up in Valpo Basketball: Following a lengthy break from competition which included the fall semester final exam period, the Valpo women’s basketball team returns to the court for one last nonconference test on Thursday, as the Beacons travel to Wisconsin for their second game against a Big Ten team this season. Please note that game time has been moved up to noon in anticipation of incoming winter weather.
Previously: Juniors Jayda Johnston and Ava Interrante each smashed their career best in the scoring column on Dec. 9 at Western Illinois, but it wouldn’t be enough to come away victorious, as the host Leathernecks jumped out to an 11-point lead after one quarter on their way to an 83-67 win. Johnston scored a team-high 16 points and Interrante scored all 15 of her points in the second half.
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Head Coach Mary Evans: Mary Evans is in her fifth year at the helm of the program in 2022-23 and owns a record of 50-74. Evans has made an impact on the program in her first four years, raising the team’s level of play to be competitive in a strong Missouri Valley Conference. Evans’ preferred style of play has been a big part of the program’s turnaround, as Valpo has led the MVC in 3-pointers made per game in each of the last three seasons and in steals per game in two of the last three years.
Series Notes: Thursday marks the third meeting between the Valpo and Wisconsin women’s basketball programs. Both of the previous two matchups have come in Madison as well, including the most recent - an 89-82 overtime win for the Badgers on Dec. 20, 2020. Valpo rallied from a 10-point second half deficit to force overtime on a Shay Frederick layup with 1.3 seconds to play in regulation - two of her career-best 27 points. Leah Earnest is the only current Beacon to have played in that game, as the Badger State native contributed 11 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench as a freshman.
- Valpo was picked to finish in 10th place in the MVC preseason poll, totaling 197 points, just 10 points behind Evansville.
- Valpo is in its sixth season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
- The Valley was ranked 10th in conference NET last year, was ranked seventh nationally in conference NET in 2020-21 and was eighth nationally in conference RPI in 2019-20.
...looking back at last year
- Valpo finished last year with an 11-19 overall record, but was strong in MVC play, going 9-9 in conference and finishing in sixth place - both of which match the program’s best since joining the Valley.
- The Beacons registered the first win at Drake and the first win at Bradley in program history.
- Valpo swept the season series over Drake, the program’s first two wins ever against the Bulldogs.
- The Beacons also tallied four top-100 wins within Valley play.
- Grace White was named MVC Sixth Player of the Year - the program’s first major postseason award since joining the Valley. Shay Frederick was a First Team All-MVC choice, while White was an All-Defensive Team selection and Olivia Brown earned a spot on the All-Newcomer Team.
...at Western Illinois
- WIU led 27-16 at the end of the first quarter and extended its lead to 50-28 at intermission.
- The Leathernecks led by 25 early in the third quarter. Valpo battled back to within 16 at the end of the third period and got the deficit down to 11 points in the fourth quarter, missing a shot that would have potentially made it an eight-point game with 8:41 to play.
- Jayda Johnston surpassed her previous career high of six points early in the second quarter and finished with a team-best 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four rebounds in 32 minutes of action off the bench.
- Ava Interrante’s third-quarter output of nine points broke her previous career best by itself. All 15 of the junior’s points came in the second half, as she hit 5-of-8 from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
- Leah Earnest registered her fourth double-double of the season, scoring 10 points and leading all players with 10 rebounds.
- After shooting just 9-of-26 from the field in the first half, Valpo shot nearly 50% (13-of-27) in the second half. The Beacons also were 6-of-14 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes after going without a triple in the opening 20 minutes.
- Western Illinois took advantage of an edge at the charity stripe, going 28-of-37 from the foul line to Valpo’s 17-of-23. The Leathernecks also forced 22 Valpo turnovers and committed just 11 miscues, finishing with an 18-5 edge in points off turnovers.
...versus Western Michigan
- Valpo scored just one basket in the game’s first seven minutes, allowing the Broncos to lead by as many as 10 points in the opening quarter.
- WMU led 20-11 at the end of one period and 34-25 at halftime.
- The Broncos were up 46-33 halfway through the third period before a 8-0 Valpo run brought the Beacons within five.
- WMU scored the final seven points of the quarter, however, to extend back out to a 12-point lead with 10 minutes to play.
- Western Michigan led by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter and held a 60-47 lead to 5:30 to play. The Beacons’ defense stepped up, however, forcing five straight empty possessions from the Broncos over a span of nearly five minutes.
- On the offensive end, Olivia Brown drilled a 3-pointer and Leah Earnest had drives and finishes on back-to-back trips to bring Valpo within 60-54 with 3:10 to play. But with an opportunity to climb even closer, the Beacons committed turnovers on their next three possessions — the last a charge call which wiped out a potential and-1 opportunity with 85 seconds to play — and would get no closer the rest of the way.
- Brown led the way for Valpo offensively, finishing with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting — including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. The senior, who also grabbed five rebounds, tallied at least 20 points for the fourth time in a Valpo uniform.
- Earnest extended her streak of double-figure scoring games to open the season to seven straight with 12 points on Wednesday while pulling down a team-high seven rebounds as well.
- Pitts posted a career high in the scoring column as she hit 5-of-9 from the floor for 11 points.
- Valpo hit at a 50% clip from the field (24-of-48) on Wednesday and was 5-of-13 (38.5%) from 3-point range. Both percentages were the team’s second-best marks of the season.
- Meanwhile, the Beacons held WMU to 36.1% shooting (22-of-61) and just 4-of-24 (16.7%) from 3-point range, both of which were the second-lowest by a Valpo opponent this season.
- The Broncos secured 21 offensive rebounds to just nine offensive boards for Valpo, while WMU also held a +7 edge in turnover margin (22-15).
- Missouri Valley Conference play opens up next Friday, Dec. 30 as the Beacons visit Valley newcomer Belmont.
- Valpo’s conference-opening road trip continues on New Year’s Day at Murray State.
...on the road
- Friday’s game is the fourth of 14 true road games for Valpo this season and the final nonconference road game.
- The Beacons are 1-2 so far this season on the road nad posted a 5-11 in true road games last season.
- Wisconsin enters Thursday’s game with a 4-9 overall record so far this season, including losses in its first two Big Ten games.
- The Badgers dropped a 70-60 decision at Green Bay last Wednesday in their last game.
- Thursday’s contest will be the rubber game in the three games between Wisconsin and MVC programs this season - the Badgers defeated Bradley, but lost to Illinois State.
- All five Wisconsin starters score in double figures, led by 13.4 points/game from Julie Pospisilova, who scored 23 in the Badgers’ OT win against Valpo two years ago.
Setting Career Bests
- It wasn’t just the fact that juniors Ava Interrante and Jayda Johnston both set career highs in the scoring column last time out at Western Illinois, it was more in the fact of how both zoomed past their previous career best.
- Interrante came out of the first half scoreless, but matched her previous career high of five points just 2:35 into the third quarter - despite starting the period on the bench - and surpassed it 2:55 in.
- Interrante eventually ended the third quarter with nine points and finished the game with 15 points.
- Meanwhile, Johnston raced past her previous high of six points just 2:05 into the second quarter on her way to a team-best 16 points.
- Eight of Valpo’s 11 players who have seen action this season have tied or set career bests for scoring at some point in this season’s first eight games - notably, three separate games have featured multiple Beacons hitting career highs.
- The season-opening win at Central Michigan featured career bests for Leah Earnest (20) and Katie Beyer (11), while Ali Saunders (32) and Olivia Sims (12) hit career highs in the overtime loss to UAB.
Top Scorers Doing So Efficiently
- Three of Valpo’s top four scorers are hitting at least half their shots from the floor so far this year.
- Leah Earnest is averaging 13.0 points/game on 57.5% shooting, Ali Saunders 12.3 points/game on 56.1% shooting and Ilysse Pitts 6.1 points/game on 50% shooting.
- While she’s not hitting at a 50% clip, Olivia Brown isn’t shabby either, scoring 11.4 points/game on 42.9% shooting.
- All four are knocking down at least 38.9% from the 3-point line as well.
- Valpo has not had even one of its top scorers shoot at least 50% for a season since Sharon Karungi scored 11 points/game on 52.9% shooting in 2013-14.
Taking a Break From Taking a Break
- When they step on the court to tip off against the Badgers on Thursday afternoon, it’ll be a sight for sore eyes, as it has been nearly two weeks since the Beacons last saw action.
- Valpo played at Western Illinois Dec. 9, meaning the game against Wisconsin is the first game for Valpo in 13 days.
- It is the longest stretch between two games for the program (excepting the COVID-19 affected season of 2020-21) since the 2013-14 squad played Butler on Dec. 13 and next played Western Michigan on Dec. 29.
- The 2018-19 team also had a 16-day stretch between games mid-season, but played an exhibition contest during that stretch.
- After Thursday’s game, Valpo will have another eight days until playing again Dec. 30 at Belmont, meaning that the game against the Badgers will be the lone game for the Beacons over a stretch over 20 days.
Happy Trails Until 2023
- Despite being within the first week of December, the home game against Western Michigan on Dec. 7 was the Beacons’ last at the ARC in the 2022 calendar year.
- Valpo will not play another home game until welcoming Evansville to town on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
- The Beacons will play their final two nonconference games (at Western Illinois and Wisconsin) and their first two MVC games (at Belmont and Murray State) in between these two home games.
- The 29 days between home games is the longest stretch between regular season home games for Valpo since the 1999-2000 team went 35 days between playing Eastern Michigan at the ARC on Dec. 9 and Oakland at home on Jan. 13.
Earnest Crashes the Boards
- Leading the way on the glass in the MVC this season has been junior Leah Earnest, with four double-figure rebounding performances and a 9.0 rebounds/game average to top the conference and rank among the top-60 nationally.
- Earnest now owns the top-two individual rebounding efforts in head coach Mary Evans’ tenure with 14 against EIU and 13 against UAB.
- Earnest is the first Valpo player to secure at least 27 combined rebounds in consecutive games since Amber Lindfors grabbed 17 boards against Northern Kentucky and 12 against Oakland in February 2017.
- Earnest has also been consistently on the scoresheet, scoring in double figures in each of Valpo’s first eight games of the season.
- Combining her scoring and rebounding, Earnest has registered three double-doubles after recording just one in her first two seasons combined.
- Earnest is the first player in program history to tally three double-doubles in the first four games of a season.
- Earnest already has more double-doubles this season than Valpo has posted as a team in any of the last three seasons. She is the first Valpo player with at least four double-doubles in a single campaign since Addison Stoller tallied four during the 2018-19 season.
A New Rookie Standard
- Freshman Ali Saunders set a new mark for Valpo rookies as she scored 32 points against UAB.
- The previous freshman record is unknown, but there have now been 16 games in program history a Valpo player has scored 32 or more points, and none of the previous 15 came from a rookie.
- As of Monday, Saunders is one of only five D-I freshmen to score 32 or more points in a game this season, joining Minnesota’s Mara Braun, Florida State’s Ta’Niya Latson and Northern Colorado’s Gabi Fields.
- Saunders posted the highest-scoring game by any Valpo player since Dani Franklin dropped 33 points against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 3, 2016.
- Saunders was in double figures in the scoring column in each of the first four games of her collegiate career - the first Valpo freshman since Franklin in 2014-15 to do so.
- It is a revamped squad on the court for the Beacons in 2022-23.
- Valpo returns just 32.1% of their scoring, 38.1% of their rebounding, 24.4% of their assists and 35.9% of their minutes played from last year’s squad.
- Valpo lost its three leading scorers, four of its five leading rebounders and its three highest assist talliers from the 2021-22 team.
- Seven letterwinners return for the Beacons in 2022-23.
- Included among that group are four regulars from last year’s team, highlighted by senior Olivia Brown, who was an MVC All-Newcomer choice last season.
- Brown averaged 6.6 points/game and hit at a conference-best 39.8% clip from the 3-point line. Brown stepped up her game within Valley play, averaging 9.5 points/game in MVC action and hitting at a 42.4% rate from deep.
- Also returning from last year’s starting group is junior wing Leah Earnest. Earnest averaged 7.7 points/game and 4.6 rebounds/game in 2021-22, ranking second on the team in rebounding.
- She paced Valpo on the boards nine times and scored in double figures on nine occasions, including a pair of 17-point efforts.
- Fifth years Maya Dunson (3.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg) and Ilysse Pitts (1.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg) also saw regular action last season.
- Juniors Ava Interrante and Jayda Johnston and sophomore Katie Beyer look to take advantage of the available playing time entering this year.
- While Valpo has three freshmen on this year’s team, none of them are traditional true freshmen.
- Both Ella Van Weelden and Lovie Malone redshirted last season in their first year on campus.
- Meanwhile, Ali Saunders came to campus at the holiday break and spent the spring semester with the team.
- The Beacons also added a pair of transfers to the roster for this season.
- Emma Tecca spent three seasons at Akron, but used just one season of eligibility. Tecca hit at a 45.2% clip from behind the 3-point line in 2020-21 — a mark which ranks among the best single-season clips in Akron history.
- Olivia Sims was at Oakland last season, where she hit at a 46.9% clip from the 3-point line in 12 appearances. Sims scored in double figures four times, including a 12-point performance against Michigan State.
Who’s Coming In
- Four high school seniors signed NLIs to join the Valpo women’s basketball program as freshmen for the 2023-24 season last month.
- Twins Nevaeh and Saniya Jackson, out of Northrop [Ind.] H.S., are both 6-0 and both earned Second Team All-State honors last season.
- Layla Gold is a 5-11 G/F out of Cathedral [Ind.] H.S. who helped lead her team to a city championship and was named a Top 10 Player in her class by the Indy Star.
- A 5-6 guard, Raeven Raye-Redmond won a national championship on the AAU circuit last summer with West Virginia Thunder and is ranked 23rd in her class in the state of Ohio by Prep Girls Hoops.
- In her time at the helm of the Valpo program, head coach Mary Evans’ teams have become known for their propensity to shoot 3-pointers.
- Evans’ first four seasons at the helm saw Valpo’s top-four single-season total 3-pointers made, including a program-record 276 in her first season in 2018-19 - a mark which ranks seventh in MVC history.
- Valpo has ranked among the top-35 in the nation in 3-pointers/game all three years, with the 2020-21 squad setting a program single-season record by averaging 9.0 triples/game.
- Prior to Evans’ arrival, Valpo had made 14 or more 3-pointers in a game just nine times in program history.
- In her four seasons at the helm, Valpo owns 11 more games with 14+ triples, including twice matching the program single-game record of 17.
- The style of play isn’t a surprise if you follow the coaching tree. Evans coached under Bob Boldon at Ohio for five years before getting the head job at Valpo, and Boldon was a former assistant coach at FGCU under their legendary head coach, Karl Smesko, whose teams have ranked among the top-5 in the nation in 3-pointers made in each of the last 10 years.
Top 100 Wins
- Valpo has made a habit of knocking off top-100 opponents in MVC play over the last few seasons.
- Four times in MVC play in 2021-22, the Beacons earned a victory over a top-100 team.
- Valpo has nine top-100 NET/RPI wins in Valley action over the last three seasons.
- Prior to its Feb. 16, 2020 win at Illinois State - its first top-100 win in conference play since joining the Valley - Valpo had gone nearly seven years without a top-100 victory.
Same Alma Maters
- While there are 12 players on the 2022-23 Valpo women’s basketball roster, there are only 10 high schools represented.
- Fifth year Maya Dunson and redshirt freshman Lovie Malone are both alums of Wayne (Ohio) H.S.
- Junior Ava Interrante and sophomore Katie Beyer were teammates at McHenry (Ill.) H.S.
#1 Emma Tecca
- Tecca hit a trio of free throws at Northwestern.
- Tecca made her Valpo debut against Southern Miss, playing five minutes off the bench.
- Tecca spent the last three years at Akron, appearing in a total of 28 games.
- Tecca hit at a 45.2% clip from 3-point range in 2020-21, one of the top single-season marks in Zips history.
- Tecca played her prep basketball at Archbishop Hoban H.S., where she was an All-Ohio Division II Honorable Mention selection as a sophomore before injuries ended her final two seasons.
#2 Olivia Brown
- Brown went 4-of-5 from 3-point range and 7-of-10 overall from the field to pace Valpo with 20 points and added five rebounds against Western Michigan.
- Brown scored a team-best 20 points, including four 3-pointers, while adding six rebounds and four assists versus Eastern Illinois.
- Brown paced Valpo with 15 points and tied her high in the Beacon uniform with six rebounds in the win over Southern Miss.
- Brown opened the season with 11 points in Valpo’s win at Central Michigan.
- Brown was named to the 2021-22 MVC All-Newcomer Team for her performance in her first year at Valpo.
- Brown averaged 6.6 points/game in 2022-23 as she appeared in all 30 games, making 19 starts.
- Brown’s scoring average increased to 9.5 points/game in MVC play.
- Brown led all Valley players as she connected at a 39.8% clip from the 3-point line.
- Brown ranked second in MVC-only action in 3-point percentage (42.4%), fourth in field goal percentage (51.6%) and ninth in 3-pointers made.
- Brown scored in double figures six times, including a pair of 20+ point outings.
#3 Ava Interrante
- Interrante smashed her career high for scoring with 15 points - all in the second half - on 5-of-8 shooting (3-5 3PT) last time out at Western Illinois.
- Interrante grabbed three rebounds and dished out a pair of assists against Bowling Green.
- Interrante registered five points and three steals against UAB.
- Interrante opened the year with two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes of action in the season-opening win at CMU.
- Interrante appeared in 18 games in her first two seasons at Valpo.
- Interrante scored four points in last year’s MVC Tournament quarterfinal against UNI.
- Interrante earned Honorable Mention All-State honors and was a two-time All-Conference selection for McHenry [Ill.] H.S.
#4 Ilysse Pitts
- Pitts hit a career-best five shots from the field for a career-high 11 points against Western Michigan.
- Pitts paced Valpo with five assists and three steals at Northwestern.
- Pitts set a career high with four made field goals against Eastern Illinois, tallying nine points and a team-best three steals.
- Pitts set a career high with three made 3-pointers and matched her best with 10 points in the win over Southern Miss.
- Pitts made her first career start in the season-opening win at CMU.
- Pitts is Valpo’s leading active returnee in assists and steals.
- Pitts played the final 21 games of the 2021-22 season, averaging 10.1 minutes/game, 1.4 points/game and 1.4 rebounds/game off the bench.
- Pitts led Valpo in steals three times last year.
- Pitts set season highs with five points, five rebounds and three assists in win over UNI, playing a season-high 20 minutes against the Panthers, including all 10 minutes as Valpo outscored UNI by 11 points in the fourth quarter.
- Pitts registered a season-best four steals in the program’s first-ever win over Drake.
- Pitts led Valpo in assists five times and in steals three times as a sophomore in 2019-20.
#11 Ali Saunders
- Saunders paced Valpo with 16 points (5-7 FG, 2-3 3PT, 4-4 FT) and five assists against Bowling Green.
- Saunders scored a Valpo freshman record 32 points (12-18 FG, 2-3 3PT, 6-7 FT) - the most by a Valpo player since December 2016 - and added eight rebounds and three assists versus UAB.
- Saunders needed just 13 minutes to score 11 points and dish out three assists in the win over Southern Miss.
- Saunders scored 10 points off the bench in her collegiate debut in the win at CMU.
- Saunders enrolled at Valpo prior to the start of the spring 2022 semester.
- Saunders was a prep standout at North Harrison [Ind.] H.S.
- Saunders was a First Team All-State selection by both Hoosier Basketball Magazine and the ICGSA as a junior.
- Saunders was ranked as the #11 player in her class in the state of Indiana according to Prep Girls Hoops Indiana.
#20 Katie Beyer
- Beyer enjoyed a strong season opener, hitting 5-of-6 for 11 points and five rebounds in the win at CMU.
- Beyer appeared in six games in her first season and a half at Valpo.
- Beyer enrolled for the spring 2021 semester after a successful prep career for McHenry [Ill.] H.S.
- Beyer led the Fox Valley Conference in scoring and rebounding in 2019-20, earning All-Area honors
#22 Leah Earnest
- Earnest registered yet another double-double with 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds last time out at Western Illinois.
- Earnest scored 13 points and hit a career-best three 3-pointers both at Northwestern and versus Bowling Green.
- Earnest scored 13 points and led all players with 13 rebounds versus UAB.
- Earnest scored 11 points and demolished her career high with 14 rebounds against Eastern Illinois.
- Earnest hit 6-of-10 from the field for 12 points and led Valpo with eight rebounds in the win over Southern Miss.
- Earnest set a career best with 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for a double-double in the season-opening win at CMU.
- Earnest started in 17 of her 30 appearances last season, averaging 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
- Earnest ranked second on the team in rebounding and third in blocked shots.
- Earnest finished the 2021-22 season 12th in the MVC in conference-only play in field goal percentage
- Earnest scored in double figures nine times last year.
- Earnest led Valpo in rebounding nine times and in scoring three times.
#25 Ella Van Weelden
- Van Weelden grabbed a team-high six rebounds off the bench and added five points as well at Northwestern.
- Van Weelden delivered seven rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench versus UAB.
- After not playing in the first three halves of the season, Van Weelden made her collegiate debut in the second half against Southern Miss, going for nine points (2-3 3PT; 3-4 FT) and six rebounds in the win.
- Van Weelden redshirted in 2021-22 in her first season at Valpo.
- Van Weelden earned All-State honors in each of her final three seasons at Marion [Iowa] H.S., including First Team accolades as a senior.
- Van Weelden helped lead Marion to 84 wins over her four years, including a state title in 2018 and a championship game appearance in 2019.
#30 Lovie Malone
- Malone redshirted in 2021-22 in her first season at Valpo.
- Malone was a four-year letterwinner for powerhouse Wayne [Ohio] H.S., which was ranked as high as #2 in the state and #21 nationally during her prep career.
- Malone was a Second Team All-Conference selection as a senior, helping lead her team to the regional finals.
#32 Maya Dunson
- Dunson hit two 3-pointers for six points and grabbed four rebounds versus Eastern Illinois.
- Dunson knocked down a pair of triples as part of an eight-point, four-rebound effort in the win over Southern Miss.
- Dunson opened the season with seven points and six rebounds in Valpo’s win at CMU.
- Dunson appeared in all 30 games, starting six times, in 2021-22, averaging 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds/game
- Dunson led Valpo in blocked shots three times and in rebounding twice
- Dunson had her career-best game in a win at Indiana State, hitting all three of her 3-point attempts and matching her career highs with 13 points — all of which came in the second half — and seven rebounds.
- Dunson enrolled mid-year during the 2020-21 academic year and became eligible at the start of MVC play
- Dunson came to Valpo after playing one and a half seasons at Loyola.
#33 Olivia Sims
- Sims matched her career high with 12 points against UAB.
- Sims scored nine first-quarter points versus Eastern Illinois.
- Sims started her Valpo debut in the season-opening win at CMU, tallying five points and a pair of steals.
- Sims joins Valpo this season after playing her freshman year at Oakland, where she averaged 5.4 points/game and hit at a 46.9% clip from 3-point range.
- Sims scored in double figures four times last year, including a season-best 12 points against Michigan State and 10 points versus Michigan.
- Sims was a Second Team All-State selection as a senior and a Third Team All-State choice as a junior while playing her prep basketball for Ohio powerhouse Notre Dame Academy.
#41 Jayda Johnston
- Johnston surpassed her previous career best for scoring early in the second quarter last time out at Western Illinois, finishing with a team-high 16 points (7-12 FG) and four rebounds.
- Johnston tallied six points and three rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench against Western Michigan.
- Johnston pulled down a career-best five rebounds - all on the offensive end - and scored five points at Northwestern.
- Johnston set a then-career high with six points and grabbed three rebounds against UAB.
- Johnston appeared in nine games in her first two seasons at Valpo.
- Johnston played her prep basketball for Roseville Area [Minn.] H.S., where she was a two-time Honorable Mention All-State honoree.
- Johnston helped her team win sectional title and finish in fourth place in state as a sophomore, earning a spot on the All-State Tournament Team.