OMAHA, Neb. - Looking for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Creighton women's basketball team held its first team practice of the 2012-13 season on Monday, Oct. 1.
2012-13 SEASON PREVIEW
The Jays closed out 2011-12 with eight wins in their last 10 games and put a scare in No. 14 St. John’s before falling to the Red Storm 60-67 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Fueled by that taste the Jays sampled last season, the Creighton women’s basketball team is looking for another run to the Dance in 2012-13 and ready to add a regular-season Missouri Valley Conference Title as well.
The Jays certainly have the necessary ingredients for a return to the NCAA Tournament as head coach Jim Flanery returns 10 players from last season, including four starters. The only departure was senior graduate DaNae Moore. Replacing her leadership, however, will be critical.
Replacing the leadership provided last season by Moore will fall on the shoulders of a group that matured together as a unit last season. When discussing his team’s success last season, Flanery pointed to their ability to rely on one another, referencing the team’s confidence to come back from a 16-4 deficit midway through the opening half on the semi-final of the MVC Tournament. In that game Flanery maintained his normal rotation, going to the bench at the 12-minute mark. The Jays responded with a 12-0 run to tie the game by the seven-minute mark. A large portion of that credit for that win goes to Flanery’s decision to play all 11 healthy Jays throughout the season.
“As coaches you want to learn. Over the past few years I’d shorten the rotation as the season went on. What often happened is players put more pressure on themselves at the end of the year,” said Flanery. “From the very beginning we played everyone last year. Our philosophy was ‘the more you get to play the better you’re going to get in practice, because more players come excited to practice.’ It definitely benefitted us in the conference tournament. When you are playing 11 each player feels less pressure than when you are playing seven.”
Flanery also adjusted his style of coaching last season to facilitate his team’s growth.
“Last year I felt we had a younger team that would benefit more from me being relaxed,” noted Flanery. “We were a bit of an underdog, so we had to play a little more loose to be effective. That was a good learning experience for me, that maybe I need to lighten up and put less pressure on myself and in the process put less pressure on the team.”
This season the Bluejays must transform from being the youthful upstarts to the defending champion, which carries a target for opposing teams. Flanery, however, believes his team is ready for the challenge of repeating.
“Other than DaNae, this is the group that got us there last year. The
challenge is to understand how hard it was to get there, but also to understand
what it was that made us successful and part of that was to relax,” said
Flanery. “The amount of work and preparation that goes into our success, I
believe in this group.”
Junior Sarah Nelson returns to anchor the post position for Creighton this season. Nelson was an All-MVC Honorable Mention selection last season as she led Creighton with 7.6 rebounds per game (rpg). Nelson was a two-time MVC Player of the Week in 2011-12, she closed the season with 409 points (12.4 points per game (ppg).
Junior Alyssa Kamphaus and sophomore Alexis Akin-Otiko will both each see significant time this season. Kamphaus, a 6’3’’ native of Seward, Neb., saw action in all 33 games for the Jays last season. She averaged 2.2 ppg and 2.6 rpg. Akin-Otiko, meanwhile, averaged 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Akin-Otiko posted a career-high 16 points in the Jays’ 71-51 win over North Dakota State. The sophomore from Bellevue, Neb., also saw time in each of Creighton’s 33 contests.
The Jays also expect freshman Brianna Rollerson from Omaha, Neb. to
contribute this season.
Junior Carli Tritz and senior Ally Jensen are expected to start at the wing for the Jays. Tritz is coming off an All-MVC First Team season in 2011-12, that included 29 points in Creighton’s 56-47 win over Missouri State in the MVC Tournament Semi-Finals. The Sioux City, Iowa native led the Jays in scoring last season with 14.4 ppg. Tritz led Creighton in scoring 16 of her 32 starts.
Another Iowa native, Jensen hails from Ames, Iowa. Jensen started 32 games for the Jays last season, leading the Jays with 69 three-pointers and an average of 8.4 ppg. Jensen gives the Jays both a threat from beyond the arc as well as a floor general. Flanery characterized her as the player that ‘sees the game more like a coach.’
Juniors McKenzie Fujan and Jordan Garrison are expected to see time at the wing positions. Garrison provided a spark for Creighton off the bench last season with 142 points, including 33 triples. Despite being just 5’5’’, Garrison was able to give the Jays a threat both beyond the arc and someone that can drive the lane.
Fujan will split time in 2012-13 at the wing as well as at the point, where she started 28 games last season. The Weston, Neb., native was instrumental in helping Creighton down Drake in the MVC Tournament Championship game, scoring a season-high 12 points.
Freshman walk-on Tessa Leytem rounds out the wing rotation for the Jays.
Leytem comes to the Jays from Dubuque, Iowa. She averaged 16.3 points a
game as a senior in high school.
The point guard role will be shared by four Creighton athletes this season. Fujan enters 2012-13 as starting point guard, but she will be pushed by freshman Marissa Janning of Delano, Minn. Janning provides Flanery with a player that can push the ball, score and improve the Jays on-ball presence.
Senior Jasmin Corbin and sophomore Sammy Jensen will also see time at
both the wing and point.
Flanery has a tradition for creating the most challenging schedule in the MVC. He may have outdone himself in 2012-13. The Jays play 30 regular-season contests during the 2012-13 season, 14 in D.J. Sokol Arena and 16 games on the road.
The non-conference schedule kicks off with a flurry as five of the Jays’ first six opponents appeared in the 2011-12 NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays open the 2012-13 season at home against Oklahoma (Nov. 10), then travel to South Dakota State (Nov. 14). The lone team in the opening six not to make the Dance last year is next as the Jays head to Vermillion to take on South Dakota on Nov. 20.
Creighton returns home to face Kansas (Nov. 25), then travels to Salt Lake City for a neutral site contest against BYU on Nov. 28. The final NCAA matchup of 2012-13 is intrastate rival Nebraska on Dec. 5.
The highlight of the road contest for Creighton comes on Dec. 21-22 as the Jays travel to Cancun, Mexico to play in the Caribbean Challenge. The four-team tournament will feature Creighton, Miami-Ohio, Nevada and South Florida. Creighton will face Miami-Ohio (Dec. 21) and South Florida (Dec. 22).
The Jays wrap up its non-conference schedule with road contests against Houston (Dec. 8) and Minnesota (Dec. 30) as well a home game against North Dakota State (Dec. 16).
“It’s a challenging schedule, but we have an experienced team and when you have a team that is capable of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament you have to pursue that opportunity,” said Flanery. “Playing in a tournament like the Caribbean Challenge gives the team something to look forward to, it’s a great bonding experience, but it also affords a chance to play quality opponents and improve our schedule.”