Sam Smith | Guest Writer
After a groundbreaking 2012-13 campaign that saw the Thunder go 22-6 and make the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years, Head Coach Kent Madsen is hoping that this year’s squad can make a return run. The biggest task for the third-year head coach is looking to replace three graduated starters from last season. The departure of all-american guard Brooke Olson and guards Breanna Bohlen and Jenn Lee opens up the backcourt for new players.
“We did lose three valuable seniors, but when you graduate players, it presents new opportunities for returning or new players. We have had many players step up and demand more of themselves this year, which has been awesome for the team,” junior forward Lauren Graham said.
Much of the responsibility will fall on senior forward Maris Hovee. She led the CCIW in defensive rebounds with 6.8 in conference play and was second in the conference in blocks with 2.5 per game. Hovee was also named to the CCIW All-Conference third team. Overall, she averaged 5.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Hovee looks to be a significant force in the low post on both sides of the floor for the Thunder this year.
Alongside Hovee in the post will be sophomore center Hannah Considine She had a very successful freshman campaign, leading the CCIW in field goal percentage at 61.1 in conference play. Considine’s 54.8 field goal percentage on the season was the fourth highest in Wheaton history. Considine was also the star of Wheaton’s record-setting 118-78 blowout over North Central in January, scoring 33 points and pulling down nine rebounds. She played in every game, averaging 9.3 points and 5.4 rebounds and was named CCIW Newcomer of the Year. Said Graham of Hovee and Considine, “Maris and Hannah are both phenomenal post players; they bring positives to both the offensive and defensive sides of the game. One of Maris’ specialties is what seems to be her effortless ability to block shots and rebound. Hannah is gifted in that she can run the floor; she has good hands and is a great rebounder.”
Graham will also help contribute to Wheaton’s strong front court as she builds on her 7.5 point, 3.3 rebound campaign last year. Her goal is to improve as much as possible in every facet of the game. “I’m working on my defense and finishing well inside,” she said.
Sophomore guard Ellie Zeller played in every game in 2012-13 and averaged 7.7 points and 2.3 assists per game, shooting 44.9 percent along the way. Her ability to attack the basket from the wing will be key to the scoring for the Thunder this year. Moriah Reeves also contributed greatly as a freshman last season, playing in each game and starting at guard in ten. The two fit into what has proven to be a strong sophomore class.
“Even though we are a young team, we have a very strong sophomore class,” Graham said. “Lots of them were given the opportunity to play last year and gain some experience under their belts. They all responded very well and stepped up to the challenge.”
Senior guard Maria Panaggio has come off the bench the last three years but will likely get more minutes this year alongside Zeller and Reeves due to the graduation of Olson, Bohlen and Lee. Panaggio’s scoring and rebounding numbers increased significantly in 2012-13 to 3.5 and 4.5 per game. She was also 11th in rebounding in CCIW play with 5.8 per contest.
Coach Madsen welcomes four new freshmen onto the roster this year as well. Guards Katie McDaniels, Chantal Meachem, Abby Dorman and Melodie Yu will add depth to the roster. Though it is currently unclear which of them will get significant minutes this season, Graham says that all of them are essential to the team’s success this year.
“Currently, all of the freshmen have helped make our team better,” Graham said. “In basketball you never know who will step up. All of them will play a significant part on the team this year, whether that is in practice or in games. We need every person on the team to make us the best we can be.”
Confidence is high on the team this year as they hope to return once again to the NCAA tournament. “In order to build on last year’s season, we will need to work together as a team. If we work together, work hard consistently, and maintain the attitude of remembering whom we are playing for, then I think we will enjoy our season together and improve individually and as a whole,” Graham said.
The 2013-14 women’s basketball season kicks off tonight as the team travels to Newberg, Oregon for the George Fox Classic. The home opener will be at the Beth Baker Classic beginning on Friday, Nov. 22.
The Thunder, who are receiving votes in the d3hoops.com preseason top 25, will face No. 24 George Fox University tomorrow and No. 12 Carthage College twice in CCIW play.