New journey begins for national runner up

Cole Anderson

While the rest of the Whitman campus gears up for the end of the semester, the Whitman women’s basketball team has just started an arduous journey to live up to last year’s historic season. The challenge of following the most successful basketball team in school history will not be an easy one, but with a strong core of returning players, hopes are high once again for the Missionaries.

Though Head Women’s Basketball Coach Michelle Ferenz has preseason all-American Heather Johns back for her senior season, the team graduated four seniors, three of whom were starters, and all of whom played central roles on the team.

“We’re going to have some holes in terms of executing offensively and defensively because we’ve got so many new players who don’t have much experience yet. But we’re playing a tough schedule, and I think when you play good teams it exposes issues a lot faster,” said Ferenz.

Beyond the lack of in-game experience and the loss of the talent that each senior had, there is also the intangible loss of leadership that implicitly comes from a large group of seniors.

“The core group of seniors that left were the center of the leadership for the team last year. They all shared leadership and led in their own unique ways, so we’re looking to fill that leadership void this season,” said Johns, a three-year starting point guard.

Heather Johns '15. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Heather Johns ’15. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Senior Hallie Buse, the other captain this season alongside Johns, is one player poised to take on a leadership role for the team. Hailey Ann Maeda, a junior forward who got significant minutes and points off the bench last season, is another player Johns and Ferenz see as someone who can fill a leadership void over the course of the season.

But all is not lost from those graduating players, as they seem to have left a lasting impression on all of the returners this year. Sophomore guard Alysse Ketner discussed what kind of an impact least year’s seniors had.

“The seniors left a great legacy in that they taught everyone else what it means to be close on and off the court, and so this year we’re all really close and have gotten to know the first-years quite a bit already and that’s starting to show on the court,” said Ketner.

Ketner, along with fellow sophomores Chelsi Brewer and Gabriella McGann, acknowledged that they too had a chance to lead the first-years in helping them through their first year of varsity collegiate athletics, since they are closest to those experiences.

“We feel like we can give them advice on what works, what doesn’t and what they can be doing to make it as easy as possible,” said Ketner.

While Ferenz has always had success recruiting, last year’s Final Four appearance helped bring in a strong recruiting class of seven first-years. Those additions, along with getting some players back after injuries last season, means that Ferenz and her team can run a more up-tempo, pressure-focused game this season.

“We have more depth this year which has been great because we’re able to put a lot more pressure on defensively and create turnovers. We weren’t able to do that last year because we lacked that depth,” said Ferenz.

Johns acknowledged the additional depth as well, but her focus remains on teaching the younger players as much as she can early on.

“I think we have a lot of potential this year. We’ve got a bunch of young players, so finding success may take some time, but I’m confident in our potential so far. The returners have had a very patient mindset so far because we know that we have a lot to teach and a lot to learn as a group,” said Johns.

Two first-years noted to have already showed promise are guards Casey Poe and Eve Goldman, but Ferenz is happy with the amount of talent the group as a whole is able to bring to the team.

Coming off of a National Championship run, the team has already seen quite a bit of buzz surrounding their prospects for this season. But that pressure, Ferenz noted, is something her team isn’t worried about.

“We’re going into the season similar to how we did last year,” she said. “There are lots of expectations and a lot of national attention, so we’ve really taken the approach this year of not getting ahead of ourselves and staying in the moment and enjoying every game. I think it’s overwhelming to look at it too big picture. We obviously want to get back to the national tournament but right now we’re taking it game by game.”

Hallie Buse '15. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Hallie Buse ’15. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Ketner echoed similar thoughts.

“There is some pressure but what we’re looking to do is let go of all the external talk and focus on our game every day at practice,” she said.

Each year, the seniors get together and decide on a team motto for the season. This years motto is “Play Our Way,” and Johns spoke to what that means to her and her teammates.

“That first means finding out what that way is and then play to those strengths. But also we want to play as a family because we are all very close and all willing to give our all every play,” said Johns. “We’re not last year’s team and we don’t have to be last year’s team. We’d love to make it as far as we did again this season, but we aren’t worried about that right now. We’re just focused on what we’re doing to improve right now.”+