Burgess, Lakers right the ship in 2014-15

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Assistant coach Dani Crandall

GVL/Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Assistant coach Dani Crandall

Andy Smith

What a difference a year has made for the Grand Valley State women’s basketball team.

At this time last year, GVSU was fighting for a GLIAC Tournament bid with a 12-9 record in conference play and a 14-11 showing overall. All the Lakers had to do was beat the Bulldogs at Ferris State and they would have been in, but that didn’t happen. The Lakers came up just short.

It’s a much different story in this year’s regular season finale at Ferris State, because the Lakers (18-7, 15-6 GLIAC) already punched their tournament ticket.

“We have really grown a lot as a team this year,” said GVSU coach Janel Burgess. “Our team is becoming much more mature than they were last year; the kids put in a lot of work over the summer.

“Our sophomores got a lot of experience playing early last year – that has really helped the team – and our upperclassmen are really becoming leaders and are really owning their roles on the team.”

This year, GVSU goes into its game against the Bulldogs in a tie for second place in the GLIAC North Division with Northern Michigan. Both squads sport a conference record of 15-6, although the Lakers beat NMU in both meetings this season.

“We are just playing better team basketball and doing the little things like rebounding and going for the hustle plays,” said sophomore guard Taylor Lutz.

Junior guard Brionna Barnett has been a catalyst in the rejuvenated Laker effort this season.

Barnett is averaging 15.3 points per game and has dished out 75 assists on the year. Both numbers are good enough to make her the team leader in those categories.

“The addition of Brionna Barnett has been tremendous for us this year,” Burgess said. “She has done great things for us, is a tremendous athlete and has great composure.”

Barnett’s play could be key Thursday night in Big Rapids, Mich.

When the West Michigan rivals met on Feb. 2, the Lakers walked away with 69-59 victory at Fieldhouse Arena. GVSU was deadly from beyond the arc, connecting 11 times from 3-point land. Barnett netted a team-high 15 points in that game, as did GVSU senior forward Kat LaPrairie.

If the Lakers are able to duplicate that success and come away with the victory, they will build on their strong season by staying in second place in the GLIAC and hosting a GLIAC tournament game.

Taking care of business at home has been key for the Lakers this season. The team won its first 10 games at Fieldhouse Arena, finishing the regular season schedule with a 12-2 record in Allendale.

“The home atmosphere is great, from the band and the fans cheering for us, and it makes us more comfortable and confident as a team,” LaPrairie said. “If we are able to host a GLIAC game, it sets the tone for us as a program and raises the bar high to where it needs to be for years to come.”

The Lakers and Bulldogs tip off inside Jim Wink Arena at 6 p.m. The men follow at 8 p.m.