MOUNT PLEASANT – Reloaded with a number of new faces to replace some of the more accomplished players in school history, the Iowa Wesleyan College women’s basketball team begins its journey towards a hopeful fifth straight 20-win season this weekend when it travels to Des Moines for the Grand View University Classic.
The Tigers open their season Friday against Midland Lutheran (Neb.) College with a game at 6 p.m. IWC then plays again on Saturday when it faces Dana (Neb.) College at 2 p.m. Both games will be at a familiar location in Sisam Arena on the Grand View campus, a place the team visits every season in Midwest Collegiate Conference play.
Wesleyan will be making a run at another MCC championship and NAIA Division II National Tournament berth after making the national tourney three of the last four years. The team will be doing it with a number of new players, as four starters, including the top four scorers, have departed from last year’s team which won the MCC regular season and tournament championships and lost in overtime to Concordia (Ore.) University in the opening round of the national tournament.
Included in the losses were three players who won more than 60 games over the last three years and were part of a pair of teams that competed in the national tourney. Ali DeVries, Rachel Mitchell and Brittany Okland combined to score nearly 3,000 points in their three years at IWC and all left their mark on the school’s record books. DeVries set the school record for three-pointers made in a career and is eighth all-time in scoring, Mitchell finished second all-time in assists at Wesleyan and just missed scoring 1,000 points in her career, and Okland was also a two-year starter and is second all-time in blocks at IWC.
DeVries and Mitchell both were honored as first team all-conference and honorable mention All-Americans after last season. Both were starters along with Okland as well as Heather Larson, who led the team in scoring last year, paced the MCC in three-point percentage and was second in the league in three-pointers made but did not return to the team.
The lineup will feature a number of newcomers, but the expectations will not change much. The Tigers have won 20 or more games in four straight seasons under sixth year Head Coach Steve Williamson, who has presided over the winningest four-year period (89 wins) in the school’s rich history in women’s basketball and is one win from his 100th career win.
This year’s team features a total of seven returnees, including five seniors. Of the returnees, 5-7 guards Megan Couch (Sr.-Mooresville, Ind.) and Anna Jones (So.-Cornell, Ill.) played the biggest role last year. Couch started 28 games last year, averaging 5.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Jones was typically the first player off the bench as a freshman and averaged 7.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Her 75 steals ranked third in the conference.
Returning in the frontcourt are 6-0 senior Sherry Zehner (St. Louis, Mo.) and 5-11 senior Angela Brinkmeyer (Hubbard, Iowa). Zehner played in all 32 games last year and averaged 4.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, while Brinkmeyer played in 29 games, averaging 2.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 8.2 minutes per game off the bench.
Rounding out the returnees are 5-8 guard Susie Francescon (So.-Moline, Ill.), 5-11 forward Erin Karlsgodt (Sr.-Brainerd, Minn.) and 5-6 guard Jessica Young (Sr.-Mount Vernon, Ill.). All three saw limited action last year, and Karlsgodt and Young both missed much of last season with injuries.
The incoming class of newcomers features size and talent, starting in the backcourt. Junior college transfers Jill Ginder (Jr.-Olney, Ill.) and Melanie McCreight (Jr.-Winfield, Iowa) and freshman Danielle Des Jardins (Peoria, Ill.) are joined by Lindsee Bachicha (Jr.-Brighton, Colo.) and Apiphany Asberry (Jr.-Brooklyn Park, Minn.) in the backcourt. McCreight transferred in from Iowa Western CC and played in high school at nearby Winfield-Mount Union HS. Ginder and Des Jardins are both 5-7 guards, while Bachicha and Asberry add size in the backcourt at 5-9 and 5-10, respectively.
Frontcourt newcomers include 6-2 Jessi Beachey (Fisher, Ill.) and 5-10 Sheray Brown (Detroit, Mich.) as well as 5-10 sophomore JC transfer Kristen Lutz (Morris, Ill.). All three are also junior college transfers and the Tigers’ frontcourt group as a whole gives the team more size up front than it has had in recent years.
As has become custom under Williamson, the Tigers will face another tough non-conference schedule to help them warm up for MCC play. Opponents will include NCAA Division I South Dakota, NCAA D-II Quincy (Ill.) University as well as NAIA D-II powers College of the Ozarks (Mo.) and Jamestown (N.D.) College. Quincy is ranked 24th in the USA Today/ESPN Division II preseason coaches’ poll, while Jamestown and Ozarks are ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in the NAIA Division II preseason coaches’ poll. IWC will play at the College of the Ozarks, which has a 69-game homecourt winning streak, the longest in the country.
Wesleyan enters the season with a long homecourt streak of its own, a 25-game streak that ranks third in NAIA Division II behind Ozarks and Shawnee State (Ohio) University, which has a 31-game streak. The Tigers will put that streak on the line in their home opener against Jamestown the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27.
St. Ambrose University has been picked by league coaches as the preseason favorite in the MCC, just ahead of Mount Mercy College and Grand View in a closely contested race. The Tigers were picked a distant fourth in the standings, likely in large part due to the loss of four starters.
The Tigers will play their first seven games of the season away from home, finally playing in Mount Pleasant against Jamestown on Nov. 27 as part of a three-game homestand. Once again a large portion of the team’s non-conference games will be away from home, as 11 of 14 out of conference games will be away from Ruble Arena.