Looking ahead to shortened CCIW women's basketball season
Even before the pandemic, this set up as a challenging season for Wheaton College women's basketball coach Kent Madsen after graduating seven seniors from last year's CCIW champions.
It's certainly become more of a challenge. All that practice time normally spent working new players into the rotation is gone, along with preseason games to prepare for the conference schedule.
Then again, the alternative of no games at all makes the team's inexperience a much smaller worry.
Madsen certainly sensed that appreciation to be playing again when his team returned to practice Jan. 6 for a season that begins Saturday.
"They were happy to know we have a schedule in place and moving toward playing," Madsen said. "For college kids it's always exciting to be able to see your friends again. No doubt it was a good thing. It's nice to be told we are starting Jan. 23, here is your schedule, let's go. Lots of planning and meetings to get a season going. Really appreciate the efforts of all the coaches to make this possible."
Wheaton College edged Illinois Wesleyan by a game in last year's race, 12-4 to 11-5. In one of the oddities of the abbreviated 12-game schedule, those two teams won't play.
"There was not going to be any perfect scenario, that's for sure," Madsen said. "Do I think we did the best we could under the circumstances? Yes. Would it have been nice to play every team in our conference? No doubt. But when you are trying to take all the testing into consideration and you are only playing a 12-game schedule you do the best you possibly can."
The Thunder have to replace Batavia grad Hannah Frazier, a two-time All-American, among those seven seniors. They do bring back two starters including Wheaton North grad Hannah Swider, a junior who averaged 7.8 points and 2.5 rebounds last year.
Illinois Wesleyan senior Sam Munroe (St. Charles East) scored 26 points against Wheaton last year while averaging 8.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
North Park (17-9, 10-6) finished third in the CCIW behind Wheaton and Wesleyan.
Wheaton Warrenville South grad Jayla Johnson leads the way. The junior made first team all-conference, second team all-region and won CCIW Player of the Week three times. Her 16.2 points per game led North Park and was fourth in conference, and she was sixth in rebounding at 6.9 a game while shooting 51% from the field and 77% at the line. As a freshman she scored 14.1 points a game and won CCIW Newcomer of the Year.
Johnson's teammate, Zakiya Newsome, made second team all-conference. The senior from Glenbard North averaged 8.3 points while shooting 76% from the free-throw line.
North Central junior Allison Pearson from Maine West led the Cardinals last year in minutes (28.3), assists (62), steals (31), 3-point percentage (.374) and free-throw percentage (.885) while making second team all-conference.
At Elmhurst, Kelly Weyrich (Hersey) and Marissa Urso (St. Charles East) are two key returnees. Weyrich, a point guard, averaged 6.9 points last year, while Urso scored 7.2 points a game.
Senior Amanda Larson from Grayslake Central made 18 starts last year at Carthage averaging 5.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Madsen said his players will test two or three times a week for COVID. He's hopeful the Thunder can get through the 12-game season and give their young players time to develop.
"You figure at some point in time some team is probably going to go down," Madsen said. "We all know we have a schedule in place but we need to be extremely flexible this year as well."