As the North Star Conference heads into its final year, there is talk of optimism among its seven coaches.
The conference held its last preseason luncheon here Tuesday, and the members are ready to make some noise before making the transition to the Mid-Continent Conference next year.
“As a conference, we’re ready to lead the nation in a lot of categories,” NIU head coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said.
“This is the most interesting conference you can find in the United States,” said Valparaiso head coach Dave Wolter. “You can see every conceivable strategy in the game just in this one conference.
“(The NSC) is a microcosm of everything going on in women’s basketball. We keep getting the quality players from across the nation.”
Included in the offering is the variety of tempo of play that will be exhibited this year. Ranging from the frantic pace of NIU and Valparaiso to the deliberate half-court game of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Things could get interesting throughout the year.
“You better bring your track shoes when you play NIU and Valparaiso,” UIC head coach Eileen McMahon said.
As first-year commissioner Phyllis Holmes said, “any one team can beat another on any given night.” Based on last year, that is indeed very true in the NSC.
The greatest example of that coming in the semifinals of last year’s NSC postseason tournament at Green Bay, Wisc. Fourth-seeded Valparaiso upset regular season champion Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“It’s a credit to the conference that any team can beat any other on a given night,” UWGB head coach Carol Hammerle said.
What will make the conference stand out this year is the quality of the non-conference opponents. All teams combined, there are 20 schools from last year’s Top-100 on the schedules, and eight teams in this year’s USA Today Pre-Season Top-25 will do battle with NSC teams.
But Albright-Dieterle and NIU have something to do with those numbers. Eleven of the Huskies’ opponents this year were in the NCAA tournament in March.
“The reason NIU got the NWIT (National Women’s Invitational Tournament) bid over us last year was due to their strong non-conference schedule,” Hammerle said.
Although no official preseason predictions were available, the coaches had their own insights.
“We miss the three (Denise Dove, Lisa Foss and Toby Meeks) daily, but we’ll be a good team,” Albright-Dieterle said. “We’re focusing on the post-play, and we’ll also be firing up the three’s.”
An added bonus for the Huskies will be hosting the postseason conference tournament. “It’s always nice to have the chance to host teams,” Albright-Dieterle said.
“We would like to be the first team to average 100 points a game,” Wolter said with a big smile.
“We’re looking to lead the conference in three-point shots attempted,” first-year Cleveland State head coach Loretta Hummeldorf said.
“We’re shooting for what we didn’t get last year,” Hammerle said about not claiming the automatic NCAA bid in the conference tournament.
The University of Akron won’t be a part of the merger next year, as it enters the Mid-American conference. “We have enjoyed our affiliation with the league,” head coach Lisa Fitch said.