Laker women primed for progress in 2014-15

GVL / Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

Adam Knorr

The old axiom “practice like you play” implies that a team should match the intensity they display in a game with a similar work ethic in practice.

For the Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team, “play like you practice” might be more fitting as the new season looms. The Lakers will square off in an exhibition match against Michigan State University in East Lansing on Nov. 9, but until then the only competition will be against each other in practice.

According to senior forward Kat LaPrairie, that competition will do plenty to prime GVSU for the upcoming year.

“It was something that was talked about when I first came here – establishing that it’s OK to go hard against your teammates in practice,” LaPrairie said. “This year it’s coming through unlike any of the other years that we’ve had.

“I look forward to playing our opponents because our bench is so deep, and we’re all so good that it’s almost a relief to play someone else.”

GVSU, which returns four starters from the 2013 campaign, boasts confidence in a lineup that can contribute from top to bottom without missing a beat. LaPrairie and guard Meryl Cripe are the only two seniors on the squad, yet despite a wealth of underclassmen, the group feels no lack of experience.

The Lakers finished 14-12 (12-10 GLIAC) last season and were picked to finish third in the GLIAC North Division Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll. GVSU will have to cope with the loss of standout forward Dani Crandall, who graduated following last season and has taken a spot as an assistant coach on the 2014-15 team.

To do that, GVSU will look to their senior duo, and the oxymoron of young experience that flows throughout the lineup.

“I think we can easily go nine deep right now and not really lose a lot,” said GVSU coach Janel Burgess. “…You’re going to see somewhat of a collective effort.”

Along with LaPrairie and Cripe, sophomores Kayla Dawson and Taylor Lutz and juniors Bailey Cairnduff and Brionna Barnett will spearhead that effort.

Dawson, a forward, is GVSU’s returning leader in points per game, averaging 9.8 last season. Lutz led the crew with 67 assists, while Cairnduff racked up 24 steals and a .374 3-point shooting percentage.

Barnett, a 5-foot-6 transfer from Wisconsin-Green Bay, is expected to play a bigger role at GVSU than she did on her previous team.

Offensively, GVSU will employ a similar strategy to years past, leaning heavily on the 3-ball to spark its offense. Cairnduff, LaPrairie, Lutz and sophomore Piper Tucker all shot 33 percent or better from beyond the arc last season, knocking down 126 of 375 cumulative attempts.

In the paint, GVSU will look to junior center Jill Steinmetz, sophomore Kelcie Haizlip and 6-foot-1 freshman Korynn Hincka, who Burgess expects to make an impact in her opening season.

Downplaying the preseason rankings, Burgess says she expects the GLIAC North to be competitive from top to bottom. Teams like Wayne State, Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Saginaw Valley and Northwood all possess the talent to make a run at the GLIAC crown – and that’s excluding the entirety of the GLIAC South.

Cripe echoes her coach’s sentiments.

“The GLIAC North is always extremely competitive – it’s anyone’s game any night,” Cripe said. “We have to be prepared to play no matter who we’re playing.

“As teams have gotten more and more competitive year after year, pretty much everyone is a rival.”

With 22 of GVSU’s 26 games coming against GLIAC competition, there will be no lack of rivalry opportunity. The Lakers will come into the conference portion of their schedule well tested after facing two 2014 NCAA Division II tournament qualifiers in the first three games of the season.

But until that first official tilt against Rochester College at home on Nov. 17, the Lakers will continue to drench the court in sweat, hustle and determination.

And don’t forget camaraderie.

“I’ve told coach and multiple teams that I wouldn’t want to spend my senior year with any other group of girls,” Cripe said. “They love the game and we get along so well to where it’s extremely fun.

“It just so happens that we’re all so talented, but I love this group so much.”

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