Women’s basketball shows growth, improvement in blowout victory

GVL Archive / Eric Coulter
Sophomore Alex Stelfox prepares to shoot during a past game.

Eric Coulter

GVL Archive / Eric Coulter Sophomore Alex Stelfox prepares to shoot during a past game.

Emanuel Johnson

After dropping a 61-51 season-ending loss to Lake Superior State University in the first round of the GLIAC tournament last season, Grand Valley State University women’s basketball head coach Janel Burgess spoke with a fiery passion about improving the team for the following season.

“The good thing is that we’ll no longer be able to say that we’re young again,” she said. “There are no longer any excuses, so we’ll do it the right way, we’ll play our tails off every single game, and we’ll represent this university the way we’re supposed to.”

The Lakers demonstrated that attitude in a 90-56 blowout win against St. Joseph’s (Ind.) University Saturday in the team’s home opener.

One of the team’s biggest improvements is in the play of its starting center, sophomore Alex Stelfox. Stelfox finished the game with 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, stats she tallied while using her 6-foot-2-inch frame to exert her will in the post.

“She really worked on getting stronger and being more of a presence on the defensive end,” Burgess said. “She’s still got a ways to go, but to be able to come out and have four blocks was really good to have, and she’s really wanting the ball on the offensive end.”

Stelfox, who averaged 12 points and 4.1 rebounds en route to earning the GLIAC Freshman of the Year award last season, said the was formerly known for her finesse and worked during the offseason to improve her post presence.

“Last year I was known as being a little soft and a finesse player,” she said. “I knew not all the teams knew my game, so I had to change it to become a lot more physical in the low post. I trained with my old coach, and he helped me become both players. I can be finesse sometimes, but I can also be that physical player that (other teams) haven’t seen yet.”

Stelfox started every game for the Lakers last season, but other players, like sophomore forward Briauna Taylor, have garnered increased roles on the team, which demands increased production. In starting Saturday after starting just once last season, Taylor tallied a game-high 20 points and seven rebounds.

Though she led her team in scoring, Taylor said she still needs to improve on getting her teammates involved after tallying just one assist.

“I feel like I have a bit of a bigger role, and I have to get more people involved,” she said. “I have to get my assist level up … a good player can make the plays, but a great player can make their teammates better. Last year I tried to do that, but this year I have to make sure I’m on my game every day.”

While the returners settle into their newly-acquired roles as leaders, Burgess’ talented recruiting class of freshmen fill in several niches on the team. Guards Dani Crandall and Tori Klewicki-McNutt provided support off of the bench by combining to go 3-of-4 from deep en route to scoring 19 points and snatching nine rebounds.

Junior point guard and team captain Jasmine Padin said having such a talented pool of freshmen make her feel comfortable with whoever she’s on the court with at a given time.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m in the game with – I know them pretty much better than they know themselves,” said Padin, who finished with nine points, five rebounds and seven steals. “I know where they want the ball, I know the type of player they are, I know if they want to attack … we feed off of each other’s energy, excitement and emotion, and I think that’s what’s helped us succeed.”

The Lakers will play another non-conference game Tuesday when Rochester College comes to Allendale for an 8 p.m. matchup. After playing two seasons under a 22-game conference schedule, the GLIAC decided to revert back to a 19-game schedule for this season. Because of this, the Lakers will have the opportunity to play five more non-conference teams this season, something Burgess said provides more excitement for the team.

“That’s always refreshing for teams when you don’t have to pound each opponent twice,” she said.

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