The 2011-2012 women’s basketball season is set to open at Valparaiso University with the Crusaders looking to climb up the Horizon League standings. Head coach Keith Freeman returns nine letterwinners from last year’s squad and has brought in five new faces for the upcoming season.
Valpo looks to prove the prognosticators wrong this season as the Brown and Gold has been picked to finish ninth in the Horizon League in the preseason poll conducted of the league’s head coaches, sports information directors, and select media members. Freeman has four of his starters back from one year ago as well, when Valpo posted a 7-24 record overall and a 4-14 mark in the conference.
Freeman is beginning his 18th season at the helm of Valparaiso and enters his 24th season overall. He surpassed the 400 victory mark for his career last year, and with 276 victories at Valpo, he is the winningest coach in school history.
Greg Kirby returns alongside Freeman as the associate head coach for his sixth year with the Valpo program while assistant coach Steve Helm is back for his second season. Kelly Komara also joins the Crusader staff this season after working at Auburn as the video coordinator for the last couple of years. She was also a standout player at Purdue, winning a national championship in 1999, before being drafted into the WNBA. Freeman has also added Rashida Ray to the staff this season as a graduate assistant. Ray played for the Crusaders the last four years.
The Crusader senior class will be relied upon heavily this season to provide leadership for the team both on and off of the court.
Valpo returns the services of Ashley Varner, who is back for her fifth year with the Crusader program after missing all of 2010-2011 with a knee injury. Varner is one of the Crusaders’ top returning post players after averaging 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a junior in 2009-2010. She tallied double figures in the scoring column nine times, and pulled down seven or more rebounds in nine games as well. The South Bend, Ind. native enters this season ready to return to the court after rehabbing throughout the offseason.
Senior guard Betsy Adams was Valpo’s leading scorer one year ago after averaging 12.6 points per game, 13th best in the Horizon League. A deadly outside shooter, she connected on 34.9% of her three-point attempts in 2010-2011. Adams ranked fourth in the conference making 2.2 triples per contest as a junior and is a preseason All-Horizon League Second Team selection this winter. Adams also connected on 91.4% from the free throw line, second best in the conference, and is an 86.7% shooter from the charity stripe for her career.
Ashley Timmerman, the Crusaders’ third senior, transferred to Valpo prior to last season and made an immediate impact, finishing third on the team in scoring with 6.8 points per contest. She provided a spark off of the bench for the Crusaders at a guard spot, and finished sixth in the league shooting 38.0% from three-point range. She too was spot on from the free throw line, making 88.2% of her tries.
This year’s junior class consists of a pair of returning starters as well as two junior college transfers that will be in their first year with the Brown and Gold.
Laura Richards has run the point for the Crusaders during her first two years on campus and has racked up 181 assists during her career. Her 3.2 helpers per game last year ranked eighth in the Horizon League. She takes care of the basketball as well, posting a 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio during her first two years wearing the Brown and Gold.
Gina Lange had a breakout season for the Crusaders in the post in 2010-2011, averaging 6.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game during her sophomore season. After seeing just 130 minutes of action total as a freshman, she stepped into a starting role for Valpo a year ago, and will again look to maintain a presence in the post. She finished last year as the team’s second leading rebounder.
Of the two transfers that join the Valpo program this year, only one will be able to make an impact this season. Ieva Jansone arrives at Valparaiso from Miles Community College, where she he helped lead the Pioneers to a 25-7 mark last season, averaging 16.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. A 48.7% shooter from the floor, the Riga, Latvia native also averaged 2.3 assists and 3.4 steals per night. A guard, she earned NJCAA Division I All-Region 9 honors for both the regular season as well as being named to the All-Tournament Team, and was an Honorable Mention All-American. Jansone also was named the Most Valuable Player of the Mon-Dak Conference.
Charae Richardson transferred from Vincennes but will have to sit out this upcoming season. She will be able to practice with the team and will have two years of eligibility beginning next year. She averaged 11.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season and added 3.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game while shooting 81% from the free throw line. She helped the Lady Trailblazers to a 28-4 record and earned NJCAA Division I All-Region 12 honors.
Valpo’s sophomore class all gained a great deal of playing experience during their first year with the Crusaders and will be called on to contribute even more this season.
Tabitha Gerardot was named to the Horizon League’s All-Newcomer Team after averaging 10.7 points and a team-leading 7.4 rebounds per game for the Crusaders as a rookie. She registered nine double-doubles and also led Valpo in blocked shots. Gerardot scored a season-high 25 points against Youngstown State as a freshman, the highest scoring output by a Crusader all season.
Valpo’s top shooter from the floor was center Stefanie Lang. She shot 45.6% from the field while averaging more than five points per contest during her first year with the Brown and Gold. She showed her explosive offensive capabilities scoring 15 points at Detroit while also pulling down a season-high 11 rebounds as part of a double-double against Loyola (Chicago).
Maegan Callaway came off of the bench in 25 games for the Crusaders as a freshman, helping provide depth in the post. She found double figures in the scoring column for the first time in her career against Milwaukee a year ago, and will be called upon in 2011-2012 to provide an even bigger presence in the post.
The final Crusader returnee, Liz Horton, also got her first taste of Division I basketball as a rookie, appearing in 15 games. She, along with the rest of the Valpo roster, has benefited from added playing time during the team’s summer international trip to China, and will be relied upon more heavily this season.
Freeman and his staff have recruited a very talented freshmen class of players that may make an immediate impact with the Crusaders this year. All three players had solid prep careers, and will look to make the transition to Division I basketball.
Jessica Carr is a guard that was a 2011 Indiana All-Star for Hamilton Heights High School in Indiana. A two-time Hamilton County Player of the Year, she was a four-time All Mid-Indiana Conference selection. She set a school record for career assists at Hamilton Heights and was also the school’s all-time scoring leader. Carr helped lead her school to 69 victories during her four years.
Mallory Ladd was a First Team All-State selection at Evansville Memorial High School and finished as runner-up for Miss Basketball in the state of Indiana. The school’s second leading scorer all-time, Ladd is the school’s rebounding record-holder with 1,163 career boards. She led Evansville Memorial to the state championship as a senior, posting a 28-1 record, and set a state championship record making 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
Valpo’s final freshman, Shaquira Scott, also won a high school state championship in Illinois during her prep career. Playing at Driscoll Catholic High School, she was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship game as the team finished 33-1. A guard, Scott finished her high school career at Loyola Academy.
Freeman has again put together a quality non-conference schedule slated to prepare the Brown and Gold for the rigors of Horizon League play. The 2011-2012 regular season tips off on Nov. 12 when the Brown and Gold travels to SIU Edwardsville. The Crusaders home slate opens eight days later with a visit from Rice out of Conference USA.
The home schedule also includes a visit from longtime Mid-Continent Conference rival Western Illinois, instate foe IPFW, as well as Lehigh and Eastern Illinois.
Valpo will travel to Boulder, Colo. over Thanksgiving for the Omni Hotels Classic, hosted by Colorado. Wisconsin and Montana State will also take part in the holiday event. The Crusaders will also take to the road for a battle at Big East opponent Pittsburgh as well as a game at Ball State.
Horizon League play tips off on Dec. 28 at Wright State and the 18-game conference slate concludes when Detroit visits the Athletics-Recreation Center on March 3. This year’s Horizon League Tournament will take place March 5-11.
With a wealth of returnees to the Valpo roster this season as well as a talented class of newcomers, optimism is high around the Athletics-Recreation Center. With the right bounces of the basketball this year, look the Crusaders are poised to surprise some people around the Horizon League.