A 5-10 record might not seem all that impressive on paper. A 1-6 start to conference play might not strike fear in the hearts of conference foes. That old cliché, “numbers never lie,” well, sometimes they do.
After being ravaged by injuries, the resilient women’s basketball team has continued to battle each week while suffering through shortened rotations and freshman inexperience. The Ravens have taken the court with as few as five players healthy and in uniform on occasion this season. They have also had games with anywhere from six to seven rotation players. It has been a rare occurrence for the Ravens to take the floor with a fully healthy, eight woman rotation, something many teams take for granted.
The early conference win over Mount St. Joseph was the lone time the Ravens have played a conference game with a full rotation, showing the potential the team has when healthy and gelling. Regardless of how many players are in uniform, one thing is for certain: the Ravens are going to grind everything out until the final whistle blows.
“What strikes me the most is that there have been so many difficult or unique situations that have come up with our roster, but they remain unfazed,” explained Coach Lindsay Shade. “We have this mentality of taking what we have and doing our best, rather than thinking about the adversity we face.”
The fight the Ravens possess was first put on demonstration over Christmas break. Of the eight players on the roster, three were injured and unable to play. This left the team with five players in uniform to take on Adrian in a non-conference game.
Every card in the deck was stacked against the Ravens, but the five healthy players, Jireh Hart, the lone senior on the roster, Tatum Minier, Kaycee Strunk, Carly Hackler, and Audrey May played the entire 40 minutes, grinding out a 54-49 victory. This was the first time AU had defeated Adrian since 2005.
The Ravens dropped their next contest to Defiance, but regained Olivia Love, a freshman averaging eight points and five rebounds a game. The Ravens lost a heart breaker against Defiance, dropping that conference battle 60-53. While moral victories are hard to enjoy in the heat of battle, the Ravens effort against Kelsey Tietje, arguably the best player in the conference, was inspiring. The six Ravens combined to hold Tietje to 18 points and nine rebounds, below her season averages of 21 points and 15 rebounds.
The Ravens have now lost four straight contests, most recently against Franklin on Saturday. The effort was again strong, but 25 turnovers crippled the Ravens hopes of a victory. “Turnovers played a huge part in the Franklin game,” explained Shade. “Not only were there 25 possessions where we couldn’t get a shot, but it also led to easy scoring opportunities for Franklin as we couldn’t set our defense.”
Against Franklin, Anderson finally had the luxury of eight players healthy and in uniform. This enabled players to sub out and catch a breath when needed, something they had only been able to do previously during timeouts and breaks between quarters.
With eight players now healthy, AU can return to a normalized practice schedule, something they were not afforded when they were decimated by injury. “I went into survival mode when our numbers were so low,” said Shade. “We are now to a point where we can have a more typical practice and shift our focus from survival to improvement, and continue building good habits on both ends of the ball.”
Some of these good habits include keeping the game at a slower tempo rather than allowing a track meet to break out on the basketball court, and valuing the basketball.
Turnovers have plagued the Ravens all season, as they average eight more turnovers per game than their opponents.
The adversity faced by the young team early has brought about an experience factor that many teams can’t give their freshman.
“This team has been forced to grow up very quickly,” said Shade. “It’s almost as if they aren’t freshman anymore because they have gained so much experience…if they can stay focused on the bigger picture, it is going to pay off.”
The Ravens have already matched last season’s win total, with 10 games left to improve their record even more. While winning games now and being competitive is always the goal, the potential of this team down the road is scary.
As Shade said, there are freshman all around the country sitting on the bench rather than picking up valuable minutes. The “baptism by fire” will allow this team to be incredibly dangerous in due time.
In a couple of seasons, there is hope that the investment the players, coaches and manager have put in will pay off as the Ravens compete for a conference championship, something they have laid the groundwork for this season, regardless of what adversity has been thrown their way.