Young team makes strides

The Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball team increased their win streak to two with a con­vincing win over Quincy 72-55 on Jan. 4, improving their overall record this season to 8-4 and their Great Lakes Valley Conference record to 2-2.

The Norse opened their season with a three-game win streak, fol­lowed by a three game losing streak, and then they hit another three game win streak. As a young and some­what inexperienced, team, along with early injuries to some key players, coach Nancy Winstel said she isn’t surprised with her team’s inconsis­tency so far.

“In the beginning we were starting almost from scratch, this is the new­est team I can remember having here at NKU,” Winstel said. “So far it’s been up and down. I definitely think our last two games we are really starting to make some strides. We want to be consistent with new situ­ations. I have some girls on this team who barely played at all last season and now they’re seeing 30 minutes a game.

“They’re taking on new roles, and learning those roles and adjusting to them just takes some time,” she said.

Senior guard Rachel Lantry said she wouldn’t consider the losing streak a slump because each game the Norse lost, they lost against very good teams.

“We played amazing against (Indi­ana) even though we came up short,” Lantry said. “We are growing as a team and we are going to have our ups and downs but we never give up.

“The great thing about this team is that we could have given up when we experienced that three-game losing streak, but we didn’t because we are strong and all stuck together.”

In their four road losses, Winstel admitted some of them came partial­ly due to her younger players playing against veterans. She faults the other losses on a lack of effort and defen­sive consistency.

“I think we played really well against (Indiana) — that game could have gone either way,” Winstel said.“Wayne State was a tough loss. I felt like we should have beaten them but we just didn’t play as hard as we should have. Against Southern Indiana we shot the ball well, but we didn’t defend the way we needed to.”

NKU struggled on the road, as their 0-4 record would indicate. Although Winstel says any team naturally feels more confident play­ing on its home court, her players need to establish some comfort on the road, too.

“When you’re at home, if you hit a slump, you can rally behind your crowd,” Winstel said. “That’s much different on the road. All the fans there are rallying against you so it’s much more difficult to get back into rhythm. But good teams have to figure out a way to win on the road. We certainly have to do a better job with competing on the road. I hate to say it, but honestly, we didn’t deserve to win some of those games on the road. We have to earn it, and we didn’t in a couple of those games.”

One thing that is undeniable about this team is their youth. A roster that is made up of three freshmen and four sophomores, a lot of players are assuming roles sooner than they typi­cally would.

“There’s a lot of hope for our team,” Winstel said. “There’s playing time available because we don’t have a veteran team, but they can’t play like a freshman — they have to play like upperclassmen. That was a dif­ficult concept for us, but now we’ve been practicing for almost three months and they’re starting to figure some things (out).”

A big bonus for coach Winstel and her team is that they are healthy. In November and early December, the Norse weren’t at full team strength due to injuries.

But they are now.

“We’re finally healthy,” Winstel said. “At the beginning we weren’t healthy. If you’re healthy and you work hard, you can’t really complain about anything — at least you have a chance.”

Even with a roster full of new faces, the camaraderie amongst the players seems to be no different from how it’s been in recent years.

“I think this team’s chemistry is a lot stronger than what people see,” Lantry said. “People only see us on the court, but we have even stronger relationships off the court. We are all really good friends and I wouldn’t want to spend my senior year with any other team.”

Coach Winstel has also noticed the strong relationships between the players, both the newer ones and the veterans.

“They’re a great bunch of kids,” Winstel said. “I’m proud of how they stick together as a team. They get along and they work hard together. We win as a team and we lose as a team. We understand the team con­cept, particularly off the court, and we’re getting better at understand­ing that during games. Our team gets along, and some teams don’t get along, so that is a great carryover from off the court to on the court.”

With a competitive schedule still remaining, coach Winstel knows what she wants to see her team im­prove upon: “Consistency,” Winstel said. “And I want my team to get older faster, but I know that’s not go­ing to happen because it’s a process. Some things they just have to live through, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

The Norse will return to the Bank of Kentucky Center to host Wiscon­sin-Parkside on Jan. 16.

Story by Drew Laskey