Unsung heroes of record-breaking women’s basketball season


GVL / Dominic Stankiewicz.

Justice Steiner, Staff Writer

When a sports team is in the midst of a special season, it can be easy to only pay attention to who’s scoring the most points or coaching the team to success. However, there’s a lot more that happens behind the scenes in a successful college basketball programs and that includes the players on the bench.

This is no exception for the no. 2 Grand Valley State University (25-1) women’s basketball team, who just ended their regular season on a school-record 20-game winning streak.

“Our bench is definitely one of the best or the best in the conference,” said senior guard Emily Spitzley. “There have been instances even during the game where I’m guarding someone and they’ll turn to me and they’re like, ‘Hey, your bench is just really getting into it right now.’  They bring a ton of energy for us.” 

Leading the way from the sidelines are six redshirt freshmen, who make their presence known every game, most notably through performing creative celebrations.  

“Our team makes it very easy to be energetic,” said redshirt freshman Lexi Plitzuweit. “They’re very talented players and off the court, we all have a very special relationship and we get along as a team, so we are genuinely happy when we see them succeed.”

That off-the-court bond is something that Plitzuweit said has made redshirting and sitting out her first season as a Laker a more pleasant experience. 

“I couldn’t imagine getting along with people (fellow redshirt freshmen) better; it feels like I’ve known them my whole life,” Plitzuweit said. “Then the older kids also did a great job of welcoming us to the team. It’s super fun to be a part of — super special.”

The Laker bench takes pride in bringing more energy than their opponents, creating celebrations that involve all six freshmen.

“All of us, we are on this team, we have a level of competitiveness and I’ve never seen (an opposing bench) match our energy,” Plitzuweit said. “If a bench is getting really rowdy, we are going to one-up them, we are going to be better.” 

Coach Mike Williams said he has never actually seen his redshirt freshmen celebrating during the game but enjoys seeing the photos and videos after the game. 

“I haven’t seen one (celebration) this year,” Williams said. “The only time I know they’re going nuts over there is when the officials come over and tell me to get them down, but I see the videos and I say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s unbelievable;’ it puts a big smile on your face.”

Their value to the team extends much greater than being loud on the sidelines throughout the course of the team’s games. During practice, the six redshirt freshman serve as the “scout team” and emulate the Laker’s upcoming opponents.

“They bring it every single day in practice,” Spitzley said. “A lot of times they’re our scout team and they help us get ready for each team we’re playing. They do a great job of being each player and I think when we get into the game we feel really prepared for each of our individual matchups and what to expect.”

Williams said the scout team used to consist of helpers, usually students on campus or alumni, who would volunteer to help fill the role of the scout team. After COVID-19 hit, it was easier to have the redshirt freshmen now fill that role.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Williams said. “They are the other team; every time we practice they’re the other team’s players and they do an unbelievable job of it and I think at the same time it’s making them better.”

Williams said the commitment the redshirt freshmen have shown to the team not only helps this season but will help the program find success in ensuing seasons. 

“It tells you that they’re invested in the program, that they’re invested in winning, they’re invested in more than themselves and you know that’s why they’re going to be really good and why our program is going to be successful for years to come,” Williams said.

Moving into the postseason, Plitzuweit said the bench may have new celebrations planned for the games, but wouldn’t reveal exactly what they had in store for the upcoming GLIAC tournament. 

“I don’t think we can reveal our secrets, I think it’s to be seen,” Plitzuweit said. 

Postseason play will begin this upcoming week, as the Lakers are set to host the GLIAC tournament starting March 2, after being crowned regular-season conference champions.