Sophomore continues to flourish

By Krystal Ward

DeKALB — Women’s basketball sophomore guard Mikayla Voigt continues to progress from her freshman season. Voigt has scored 13 or more points in 12 of the 24 games she has played this season and leads the Mid-American Conference in free-throw percentage at 92 percent. She’s seen a significant jump in her 3-point percentage as well, shooting 37 percent this season compared to 26 percent last season.

Q: How has the transition from your freshman year to your sophomore year been?

A: The biggest difference, basketball-wise and off the court, is just being more comfortable as a sophomore than as a freshman. Coach [Carlsen] mentioned that last year, they just kind of threw me in the fire. I played a lot of minutes [and I] started, which was awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I think it definitely helped me this year to be more comfortable with what the coaches want and knowing other players on the team. I also think the off-season really helped too. We did the boot camp. That really built a lot of mental toughness in me and also in the other people on the team, and I think that’s really evident. Even against Central Michigan University when we got down, last year, we would’ve probably just given up. It would’ve gotten really out of control, but I’m proud of the team and how we fought. We’ve come out on top from deficits, and I think that’s really helped the mental toughness and the comfort on the court. Off the court, I’ve started my first semester of the nursing program. That’s a transition all in itself. Going from prerequisites to the nursing program is a lot of work, but they always say it’s going to be worth it in the end. Coach has been really great about helping and maybe moving things around with the schedule and stuff in terms of basketball and leaving a few hours later for road trips just so I can finish clinicals.

Q: What have you individually improved on from your first to second year?

A: I think we can all be pretty happy that my outside shooting, as in the 3-point percentage, has increased this year. I would attribute that to Coach challenging us in the off-season to shoot 30,000 — not shots but makes. So, I spent a lot of hours in the gym each day over the summer getting shots up and getting comfortable with the basketball and really getting that muscle memory.

Q: You and Coach Carlsen made your NIU debuts in the same season. Do you think having that similarity helps your relationship?

A: Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting how we kind of learned the ropes together. We figured out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve always played on very uptempo teams, so I guess I kind of knew what it was like to play that style, whereas maybe some of the other girls who played under the former coaching staff maybe weren’t as used to that, so I think that’s why you’ve seen such an improvement from last year. We’re just more comfortable. Coach and I came in together, and we’ve just kind of built a trusting relationship with each other. Obviously, I trust her completely in terms of game prep, game planning and game time decisions. I think she has also trusted me a little bit more on the court too, like when Ally Lehman got in foul trouble one game and I played at point guard. It’s been really good. I think Coach Carlsen is one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for.

Q: How was playing point guard?

A: It was very interesting. I haven’t played point guard since my freshman year of high school. So, it’s been awhile. It’s a different mentality. You’re a lot more in control of what your team does and the pace of the game and stuff like that. There were times I definitely forgot to go get the ball and had to run back like, “Oh shoot, I was supposed to get that outlet.” Like, “That was for me.” But I think I got a little comfortable, and I have started taking a few more reps in practice at the point guard spot. Not that I want to have senior guard Ally Lehman not be on the court. She can definitely take all that point guard responsibility, but if we need it, I’m feeling more comfortable to be able to help the team out now.

Q: Not to look too far ahead, but Lehman is set to graduate in May. Do you think playing point guard is a role that you’ll want to take on a little more?

A: We’ll just kind of see. Time will tell. The off-season will tell who’s going to step into the actual point guard role, but I think I’m going to step up a little bit more in leadership — as would any underclassman becoming an upperclassman. Hopefully, I can be that person people look to and just be that leader, even if it doesn’t mean bringing the ball up the court but helping everybody out and encouraging everyone.

Q: You’re from Wisconsin, and you’re a Packers fan. How is it being a Packers fan in Illinois?

A: You know, it’s going well. You tell people you’re a Packers fan and the first thing you get is maybe a little cringe, but I got to say the Packers have beaten the Bears in recent years, so it’s a little easier. But I feel like anywhere you go, people don’t really like the Packers. I always say you’re either a Packers fan or you’re not a Packers fan. Rivalry is good. That’s what makes sports fun, so it’s kind of fun to have that little competitive edge with people.

Q: You rank first in the MAC in free-throw shooting at 92 percent. Do the 100 free-throws a week help? What’s the process?

A: It does. We have to make 100 free-throws every week. My goal is always to keep it under 110 attempts to make 100. I think that’s a comfortable percentage for me. Obviously, I want to make all of them, but let’s be realistic. The biggest thing with free-throw shooting is muscle memory. So when you get in those games and maybe your legs are a little more tired, or even end-of-game situations and the game’s on the line or a certain situation could put you ahead by some more points, you have to have something to rely on, and I think the 100 free-throws a week help not only me, but I think almost everyone’s free-throw percentage is better this year. I’m confident that at the end of the game, if we’re fouled, anyone on our team can step up and make a free-throw. I think that’s something a lot of teams don’t have. We know our opponents in terms of free-throw percentage as well, but I think they would probably struggle to pick who they would want to foul at the end of a game.

Q: What are your personal goals this season?

A: I would love to win the MAC no matter how we do it. Whether that’s me hitting a lot of shots, passing the ball or stopping the other team’s players. I try to have the mentality of “whatever the team needs.” Sometimes you don’t shoot the ball well, but Coach always says to keep shooting; the numbers are what they are, just do everything else. If you miss a shot, go get a stop on defense, go get a rebound, make the next pass to the next person. It’s all about the team, and I think everyone on this team has that mentality, and I think that’s another reason why we’re so successful. Lehman always talks about how she wants to hang a banner, so one of my goals is to help her do that and be right beside her when that banner’s being hung. Any postseason appearance this team receives — winning the MAC, NCAA Tournament, WNIT — this team has worked incredibly hard for, and I think it would be great to see all of the hard work we’ve put in come to fruition in the postseason and moving forward. I’m excited. We got some big games coming up, but I think we’ll be okay.

Q: What have you enjoyed the most about being a Huskie?

A: I would honestly say my teammates. This team is so special. It’s like a family, and a lot of teams will say that, but for this one, it’s extremely true. We can make the silliest things the best memories you could possibly have, and I think that doesn’t happen with every group of girls. I just love them and all the memories I have with them. Obviously, we’re going to miss our seniors on and off the court. Our team loves to hang out. We have a group Snapchat that never stops. There’s always stuff going on, and everybody wants to share their funny stories or things that happen to them throughout the day, and we give each other a hard time, but in the end, we all know we have each other’s backs.

Q: What does this year’s mantra, “Restore the Glory” mean to you?

A: I think a long time ago, this program was very successful. Then, for a while, it kind of hit a dry spell for a little bit. I knew when I came in that the program wasn’t the best, but I wanted to be that person that really helped bring it back. I wanted to do it not only for the former players to have pride in what being a Huskie is, but we want to have that pride when we leave. I think the community in some aspects kind of lost, at least from what I’ve heard, that desire to come to games, and I guess that pride in what being a Huskie is. Coach asked me at the end of last season what I wanted to do going forward, and I said, “Coach, we have to change the mentality of this program. We can’t have the mentality of, ‘Oh, we’re playing that team. No, they’re playing us.'” Even in the game against Central Michigan, we were sitting in a media timeout, and we had finished talking, and Coach asked if we wanted to go back out on the court, and everyone looked at each other and decided to go back out there and wait for the other team because this is our court. Obviously, that night, we didn’t protect it as well as we would’ve liked to, but “Restore the Glory” is the mentality and the pride and what it means to be a Huskie.