Although she’s losing two of her best players and bringing in four new players, Kathi Bennett, NIU women’s basketball head coach, believes the team can contend for a MAC championship.
“I look at where we’re at right now: we have six new players, seven new players if you want to count Jenna Thorp,” Bennett said. “I hope you guys realize how young we are [and] how much experience we lack...are we at the top in the MAC? Probably not. But when you play collectively, you have an opportunity to touch greatness. For us, that means winning a MAC Championship. That means going to the NCAA Tournament. I don’t say these things lightly, but we really believe we have the opportunity to do this in year two.”
The two best players lost include Marke Freeman, who averaged over 16 points a game, and Ebony Ellis, who was the Huskies’ top rebounder.
New faces include Thorp, Natecia Augusta, Jada Buggs (not eligible for this season due to transfer), Amanda Corral, Janae Jackson, Claire Jakubicek and Satavia Taylor.
With so many incoming freshman, Bennett has her work cut out for her, but she enjoys the challenge.
“I’m enjoying coaching this year more than I ever have,” Bennett said. “I’ve been at this for 25 plus years as a head coach, and I can tell you with all my heart that this has been one of the most enjoyable years thus far.”
Aside from all the new faces that will have to transition into play this year, Bennett is already looking to the future, mentioning next season’s agreements.
“For the 2012 class we already have our three verbals, [and] we will have a full complement of 15 scholarship players.” Bennett said.
Not only has Bennett been working steadfastly with NIU, she has been talking basketball with men’s basketball coach Mark Montgomery.
She has already borrowed a drill from him, implementing it into her own practice, which they dub “Monty-Lay-Ups”
“What’s very good about this drill is that we do outside hand and then inside hand,” said NIU sophomore guard Danielle Pulliam. “Usually women are taught to always lay-up with their outside hand. The good thing now is that we’re switching it up and becoming more versatile.”
Along with adding more options to their arsenal, the Huskies’ practices will become more fervent under Bennett.
“We do a lot of competition drills which makes us better and more ready for game-play,” said junior forward Shaakira Haywood. ”We’ll start with the smaller things and build it up piece by piece, specifically for whatever (Bennett) wants to work on.”