Northern Kentucky University’s Women’s Basketball Team was voted the preseason favorite in the Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division by league coaches, according to a press release. This, along with the return of all five starters and 11 letterwinners, means high expectations for the Norse.
NKU (27-5 last season, 16-3 GLVC) received 36 points, followed by Bellarmine University (14-14, 10-9 GLVC) with 31 points, Lewis University (19-11, 14-5 GLVC) with 26 points, Kentucky Wesleyan College (20 points), University of Indianapolis (17), Saint Joseph’s College (10) and University of Wisconsin-Parkside (7).
This year the Norse is determined to bring home a national championship. The team’s goals, senior Karyn Creager said, are plain and simple: “Win our conference, go undefeated, beat Grand Valley State University at home, win conference tournament, make it to the final four and win a national title.”
The team has been preparing for this year since last season when Grand Valley posted a 91-70 win over NKU. During the summer, the team played in a league together, conditioned three times a week and had open gym twice a week. With only one freshman joining the team, the women know each other very well, which will work to their advantage. Senior Betsy Clark said, “I think we have all just gotten older, and the fact that we have all played together for a year already will help us read each other better on the floor.”
The experience will help, “but teams will be gearing up for us more and we need to stay as healthy as possible,” said Coach Nancy Winstel, according to NKU sports information.
Indeed they will, because NKU is at the top right now, and that’s where it’s determined to stay. With the help of the seniors, it shouldn’t be a problem. Playing a vital role for the Norse will be 6-foot-1 forward Karmen Graham. She was named All-GLVC and All-Great Lakes Region first teams last season and averaged 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. She shot 54.2 percent from the field.
Five-foot-11 guard Creager, received All-GLVC honors and honorable mention accolades last season, averaged 9.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. She was the only player to start every game and shot a team-leading 86.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Brittany Winner played the most minutes of action last season and averaged 9.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. She finished the season with the most steals and will be an important aspect to the Norse.
Katie Butler and Clark will also provide strength and depth as two leading seniors. Clark played every game last season, had 42 assists and can play all five positions. Butler can play forward and center and averaged 5.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
Running the point for the second straight year will be 6-foot junior Nicole Chiodi. Last season she had a team-leading 112 assists and picked up 39 steals, while averaging 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds. Helping out with blocks will be 6-foot-1 junior center Angela Healy. Last season she had 35 blocks and 39 steals. But, 6-foot-1 sophomore Cassie Brannen will be getting the blocks as well. She added 26 blocks last season and shot a 57.5 percent from the field.
Three sophomore guards are Karen Brackman, Keri Finnell and Danyelle Echoles. Brackman saw action in 31 games last season and Finnell played in 11 games while battling injuries for the past two seasons. Echoles averaged 1.4 points and 0.3 rebounds last season.
The only freshman is 5-foot-11 guard Rachel Lantry. She is a graduate of Holy Cross High School, a five-year starter who has scored more than 2,000 points during her career.
These women make up a unique team. Winner said, “The coolest thing about our team is our team chemistry, because we are friends both on and off the court and I think that gives an edge over other teams.” Since this group has been together and now has more experience, if they play as hard as they can in every game, the trophy will come to them.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a weakness, but I sure know that we must get better defensively in all phases,” Winstel said. “I think our strength is our talent, team chemistry, focus, senior leadership and work ethic.”
This season is one to look forward to. You can bet on exciting games and strong competition throughout the season. Clark, Creager, Winner and Graham described this year’s team as crazy, determined, spunky, committed, dedicated, rowdy, energetic and enthusiastic. It sounds like it will be a sight to see as the girls show what the Norse is made of out on the court.
Nov. 1 will opener the season with an exhibition game against the University of Kentucky at Lexington, Ky. NKU will then travel to Indiana University five days later for another exhibition game. The regular season will start Nov. 21 at home against Midway College.