By Cassidy Thornburg
After claiming their fourth conference title in the past five years, the Wheaton Women’s Basketball team is looking to continue their streak in the 2019-20 season. Here are some storylines to keep your eye on as the season unfolds.
“Defense wins games”
Head Coach Kent Madsen emphasizes daily at practice the importance of protecting the basket. Last year the Thunder led the conference in scoring defense. The Thunder held their competitors to 32.5 field goal percentage (FG%), averaged nine blocked shots a game — another conference high — and swiped the glass more than most of the teams in their conference, averaging about 30 defensive rebounds a game. However, since last year the Thunder have lost 6’2” forward Devin Kyler, who excelled in blocking and defensive rebounds.
“Whenever you lose a rebounder of Devin Kyler’s caliber, that becomes a focal point,” Coach Madsen said. “You know that some people will have to pick up that slack on a nightly basis. I think we have the people that are more than capable of doing it, but we need to see if that is true in game action.”
If the Thunder are going to maintain good protection, they need to place emphasis on guarding and applying pressure, not blowing a lead, especially in the fourth quarter. “Defense wins games,” Madsen said.
Strong Senior Class
The Thunder have seven returning seniors: Kirsten Madsen, Jacqueline San Jule, Jordan Myroth, Jane Ortlip, Kristi Demski, Jill Berg and Hannah Frazier. With three all-CCIW selections returning, these upperclassmen have the opportunity on the court to drive the team and set the tone for the underclassman.
Frazier (forward) and Myroth (guard) both had record-setting seasons last year. Frazier finished with 559 total points, more than any prior Wheaton athlete had scored in a season, and Myroth was third in program history with 150 assists. Frazier and Myroth earned well-deserved first team selections while junior guard Hannah Williams earned second team All-CCIW, after completing the season ranked third in conference for her accuracy beyond the arc (50.9 3FG %).
“The team is really prioritizing giving it their all no matter what their role is,” center Berg said. “Everyone brings something different and is so important to the team’s success.”
Excited to bring the four new freshmen into the team’s success, Berg added, “I hope the freshmen feel loved and poured into like we did our freshman year so they’re able to carry on the culture of the team when they become upperclassmen.”
Even more experienced leadership
Last season, Coach Madsen was named the Beth Baker Champion of the Year after leading the Thunder to their fourth CCIW Championship in nine seasons, adding to their 10 total. Under his leadership, they also set a new record for the most wins in conference play with a 15-1 record. The 2019-20 season will mark his 10th year as the Thunder’s head coach and 20th year coaching basketball at Wheaton. He has led the Thunder to five NCAA division three tournament appearances, and wouldn’t be opposed to this year being their sixth, but wants his team to maintain a focus on what they can control day in and day out.
“They have enjoyed the challenge that comes with those expectations, and all we can do is go out and try to play the best that we possibly can each night,” Madsen said. “I am really proud of our team for simplifying everything and keeping our approach basic. When there are high expectations year after year, it can be draining. But our players have done a good job of realizing that all they can do is control what we do every day in practice. If they keep working and having great attitudes, then we will see where that takes us by the end of the year.”
The three Hannahs
Frazier was named the CCIW women’s basketball player of the week after she scored 26 points, blocked four shots and had seven rebounds in the Thunder’s first game, on Nov. 9, against the 12th ranked UT-Dallas. Then, on Nov. 12, she joined the 1,000 points club when she scored her first bucket against Lakeland, making her the 21st player in program history to achieve the benchmark.
“We are very fortunate to return a player of Hannah’s ability level. I like that she tries to go out and do the best that she can each night. She is very versatile because she can score inside and outside. That has really helped her game,” Coach Madsen said.
Williams hasn’t gotten her start yet this season, but finished second in scoring for the Thunder last year and has already received a vote of confidence from Coach Madsen heading into the season.
“Hannah Williams is coming off a Second Team All-Conference season last year, and she looks even better this year. That has been encouraging and exciting to see,” Coach Madsen shared.
Sophomore Hannah Swider had a career high of 13 points in the Thunder’s victory Tuesday night, and could play a more important role for the Thunder this season.
“Hannah Swider definitely has the capability of scoring and I think she keeps improving in her defense,” Madsen said.
Don’t limit the Thunder
The Thunder have been picked 14th in the D3hoops.com Preseason Top-25 poll and are predicted to repeat as conference champions by the CCIW’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
With an early 66-62 victory over UT Dallas and another 59-38 win over Lakeland, the NCAA may not be giving the Thunder enough credit heading into the season. This team should not be underestimated, especially with such a strong returning class. The Thunder have depth and experience and are determined to be all-in this season. The sky’s the limit and there’s no telling where this season will take them, but it will be exciting to see it unfold.