It’s 2:55 pm and practice is winding down for GVSU Women’s Basketball. As I walk into the fieldhouse, small groups of 2-3 players are in front of each hoop — six in total across three full-length courts — practicing free throws.
A smooth swoosh can be heard repetitively as I walk along the sideline in front of GVSU’s student section toward head coach Mike Williams, who stands silently in-thought along the left sideline near halfcourt.
We exchange greetings and quickly turn toward a conversation about practice. Now, we all know Allen Iverson would be ecstatic to be a part of this discussion, but at this time of year, every practice is different and bears extra significance. The Lakers are 21 games into their regular season schedule and have posted an impressive 20-1 record on the year at the time of this practice, so Williams said it is important to keep legs fresh as the season goes on while also trying to reinforce keeping that competitive edge.
“Practices are different everyday, but they tend to be one-and-a-half to two-hours long at this point in the season,” Williams said. “Early on, they can be up there in the near three-hour range because that’s when we are getting back into the swing of things, but this time of year we have got to focus on staying fresh too.”
After we finish talking about their practice schedule for the rest of the week, Williams calls the team into a circle for closing remarks and I walk toward the bleachers to sit down my backpack and get out my notebook.
They gather in a circle that aligns perfectly with the circle adorning the GVSU logo at halfcourt. Jokes are passed around about how academic schedule changes are going to make things interesting getting to practice tomorrow.
Next, the head athletic trainer says her piece on eating right and washing their hands to avoid a gastrointestinal virus that is currently going around. Following a conversation over team dynamics, the Lakers put their hands together and break out to a resounding, “team!”
Following breaking the huddle, underclassmen line up for layup drills and the senior class gathers together in front of me on the bleachers. As I look around and talk to the players before asking my questions, I silently note the well-rounded group that sits in front of me.
Cassidy Boensch. Jenn DeBoer. Maddie Dailey. Jenai LaPorte. Megan Belke. Taryn Taugher. Victoria Hedemark.
Center-back row sits Boensch, GVSU’s most dominant scorer and anchor at the center position. A year after averaging 19.6 points and 11.6 rebounds a game and earning multiple all-American plaudits, the Au Gres, Michigan native has picked up where she left off last season, averaging 20.2 points and 9.0 rebounds a game while climbing to fourth all-time in points scored in GVSU Women’s Basketball history.
Directly in front of me sits DeBoer, the team’s point guard and gatekeeper of the offense. On the year, she is averaging 10.2 points and 5.3 assists per game and currently sits in fifth place all time in threes made at GVSU. DeBoer’s 361 career assists also puts her at ninth all-time in career assists while donning Laker blue.
To my right sits LaPorte and behind her, Dailey. Dailey is GVSU’s do-it-all forward. Often tasked with guarding the opposition’s No. 1 option as GVSU’s top perimeter defender, Dailey also has developed a diverse offensive game, which allows her to attack the basket off the dribble, post up when Boensch initiates the offense at the top of the key, and fire away from deep when she is open (she’s currently shooting 39.4 percent from 3-point range on the year).
LaPorte is GVSU’s backup point guard and one of the first players off the bench trusted with initiating the offense.
To my left sits Belke, Taugher and right behind them, Hedemark. Belke was redshirted at the beginning of the year due to a season-ending injury suffered last season, but averaged 4.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists a game when active for the Lakers as a junior.
Taugher, a graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky, has found a rhythm in GVSU’s starting lineup as a 3-point specialist and glue-girl. Often you can see Taugher attacking the offensive glass or diving for loose balls to preserve possessions.
Hedemark, affectionately known as “Vi” by her teammates, is another one of the Laker’s crafty guards. A thief in the passing lanes, Hedemark leads the team in steals at 52 while also scoring 7.9 points per game and shooting 83.9 percent from the free throw stripe.
Cumulatively (minus Taugher, who arrived this year), all of these talents have resulted in this GVSU senior class amassing a record of 102-21 and counting. While it is an excellent achievement by these players, a fact that gets lost in the history books is that a majority of the players in this senior class (Boensch, LaPorte, Hedemark and DeBoer) were recruited by Williams’ predeccesor, Janel Burgess, which is a testament to Williams ability to both gel with this group and help them gel out on the court.
“I had a similar story to Jenai and Jenn — I too committed to the former GVSU head coach Janel Burgess — so when Coach Williams got the job I was a little freaked out because I had about one phone call with him,” Boensch said. “But he did a great job coming in and getting this group together and I’ve loved all four years playing here.”
Moving forward, GVSU has five more regular season games to contribute toward their record-breaking win total, starting with a match-up at home against SVSU on Thursday, Feb 13 at 6 pm, before the GLIAC tournament begins on Mar 3.