GVSU women’s basketball hitting stride midseason

GVL / Luke Holmes - Kayla Dawson (23) shoots the free throw. GVSU Women’s Basketball defeated Wayne State University on Thursday, Jan.19, 2017.

GVL / Luke Holmes – Kayla Dawson (23) shoots the free throw. GVSU Women’s Basketball defeated Wayne State University on Thursday, Jan.19, 2017.

Brady McAtamney

Nobody knew what to expect from the Grand Valley State women’s basketball team coming into this season. A program that finished second in the GLIAC and won a game in the NCAA tournament saw sizable roster turnover and a plethora of new faces that would be required to contribute to the team.

So far, things have gone about as well as most could have hoped, as the Lakers are 13-2 overall (6-1 GLIAC) and currently riding a six-game winning streak.

Defense has been the name of the game, as GVSU is currently allowing only 57.27 points per game—the best in the GLIAC.

“That’s a good place to be,” said point guard Jenn DeBoer. “Coming into the season, a lot of us knew we could be good, but we didn’t know exactly how good we could be. I think we’re definitely achieving the goals we’ve set so far. I think a big one was defense, how we could defensively work together. That’s been coming along pretty well, and we’ve been shutting teams down for the most part.”

During their current win streak, the most points they have allowed in a single contest is 59 against Northern Michigan in a game that went into double overtime, meaning they have not allowed more than 55 points in regulation since Dec. 7.

Their success on the defensive end comes from playing as a unit and trusting one another to get the job done, which is a mindset that has transferred to the offensive end of the floor as well. The Lakers’ scoring attack does not have one single weapon that they count on night in and night out to fill it up. Instead, they have four different players who average at least 10 points per game, and six different players who average at least 6.

“I think the best part of the team is that any day, any of us can go off,” said forward Taylor Parmley. “Korynn (Hincka) was player of the week once, Natalie (Koenig) has had a few great games, Jenn (DeBoer) has been leading scorer a few times, so really just whoever is doing their best that game, that’s just what we’re going to go.”

DeBoer leads the way with 12.9 points per game, with Parmley right behind her at 12.7. From there, Hincka and Koenig average 10.9 and 10.5 PPG, respectively. From there, key reserve and reigning GLIAC Player of the Week Cassidy Boensch is putting up 8.7 PPG, and starting guard Maddie Dailey is contributing 6.8.

It’s nothing new to see players like DeBoer, Parmley and Hincka playing key roles for the Lakers, as they have all done exactly that in the past. However, some of the top names in the stat book are fresh—and welcome—additions.

“(Victoria Hedemark) has done a great job off the bench, kind of an energy-giver, just a do-it-all effort type player,” said head coach Mike Williams. “Then Maddie Dailey becoming a starter after not playing last year. Kid’s long and she can defend shooters; she can shoot the basketball. Good, solid passer. Length just gives her an advantage.

“And then Megan Belke played solid minutes until she got hurt. She was in a major role coming off the bench. I think those three, just because they didn’t play last year, have kind of been surprises or maybe done better than people would expect.”

Overall, the Lakers are outplaying their opponents in every single major statistic so far this year: field-goal percentage (43.3 percent to 38.8), 3-point percentage (35 to 26.2), free-throw percentage (72.4 to 72), rebounding (568 to 519), assists (210 to 145), turnovers committed (207 to 256), blocks (49 to 36), steals (115 to 99) and points (1,073 to 859).

“We’re spirited; we play with energy,” Williams said. “These kids come every day to practice and every game and they just want to bring it. Sometimes in games they lack confidence, so when they do make mistakes they get down on themselves, so we’ve been working on that. I think they play together. They really, really play together. 

“I don’t think we have one player that we need or we call on every game. I think it’s probably one of eight players who could step up and sound the bell for each game. That’s why you see four or five to six kids in that 8 to 12 point per game.”

Something just as important as energy and dominating the stat sheet—or that perhaps feeds into those—is team chemistry. With the aforementioned roster turnover following the 2016-17 campaign, the Lakers would be required to rebuild overall chemistry between teammates new and old.

One step made in forming team-wide bonds was an early-season trip to St. Louis, Missouri, where GVSU put down opponents Marysville and University of Missouri-St. Louis, though it was not the games themselves that brought the squad together.

On the long ride home, some players seized control of a microphone and speakers inside of their charter bus, which resulted in a six-hour-long non-stop karaoke concert consisting of classic tunes from Disney to modern-day pop to hip-hop. The entire bus ride was nothing but singing, and this helped to forge a bond among the team that to this day continues to help them win games.

Not every bus ride can be happy times with singing and dancing, though. Losses, while not guaranteed, happen for most teams, except for conference rival Ashland. As of Wednesday, Jan. 10, the Eagles are riding a 52-game win streak, the longest in Division II history. The Lakers will travel there on Thursday, Jan. 11, with eyes to end the historic run, but they know what mindset to take if victory is not achieved.

“No matter what happens, we just need to keep bouncing back,” DeBoer said. “We can’t let our mistakes phase us. We’ve been playing well right now, and we’re on that win high right now, but we can’t let a little bump in the road affect us.”