MOUNT PLEASANT – Coming off of a third straight 20-win season in 2007-08, the Iowa Wesleyan College women’s basketball program is certainly scheduling like a team that wants to be among the best in the country.
The Tigers are tackling an ambitious early season slate that begins tomorrow with the team’s opener against Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) College at 7 p.m. at Ruble Arena. After facing the Trojans, IWC will play seven of its next eight games on the road, including four of its next five against teams ranked in the NAIA national poll.
The Tigers will play the top-rated team in the NAIA Division II preseason top 25 coaches’ poll, Morningside College, and also have a game against the #7 team (Concordia University of Nebraska) and two games against the eleventh- ranked team (Sterling College of Kansas). There’s also a game against Tabor (Kan.) College, a team that, like IWC, received votes in the preseason coaches’ poll. In all, the Tigers will play 11 of their first 14 games away from home, with few games resembling anything close to a light touch.
The schedule will let the Tigers find out a lot about themselves in a short amount of time. Fifth year Head Coach Steve Williamson has another talented team this season, and the goal for the Tigers is to win the Midwest Collegiate Conference and get back to the NAIA Division II National Tournament, something the team was unable to do last year after making the national tourney the two previous years.
Three starters return from last year’s squad that finished 20-9 overall, 12-4 in the MCC regular season. IWC made a run in the conference tournament, getting to the championship game before losing a tough 63-60 decision to St. Ambrose University.
The starters, guards Rachel Mitchell (Sr.-Des Moines, Iowa) and Ali DeVries (Jr.-Bellevue, Iowa) and forward Brittany Okland (Sr.-Kelley, Iowa), have been part of the core of the Tigers for the past two seasons. There is little doubt that they will be counted on every bit as much and more this season on a team that will have to blend eight newcomers with seven returnees.
Mitchell and DeVries both were named First Team All-MCC last year. Mitchell is the point guard who makes the Tigers go, whether it be with a rebound, an assist on the fast break, or by blowing past defenders to get to the basket.
“Rachel is probably one of the best, if not the best, point guards in the league,” Williamson said. “She gets us going, we feed off the energy she creates. (And) she does a lot of little things the stats don’t always show.”
DeVries is the Tigers’ best shooter and led the MCC and ranked among the national leaders in three-point field goals made last season with 81. She also shot 44.8% from three-point land, made 89.4% of her free throws, and led the team with 14.9 points a game while also rarely coming off the court (33.2 minutes per game).
“She’s extremely competitive and a good leader,” Williamson said. “Both her and Rachel are our captains. Ali can shoot the ball, she’s a great defender-the best defender we have. Just an outstanding kid.”
Okland will be the returning anchor of the IWC frontcourt. The 6-1 post player averaged 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year and also blocked nearly two shots per game. With honorable mention all-conference forward Brooke Newton completing her eligibility and now a student assistant with the team, Okland is the leading returning rebounder on the roster. Williamson said that she has the potential to be one of the best post players he has ever coached but needs to play with more confidence.
Two other returnees who were among the first players off the bench last year are seniors Jennie Mitchell (LaGrange, Ga.) and Brittney Wilson (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Both played in all 29 games last year. The 5-11 Mitchell can swing between the backcourt and front court and averaged 5.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, while the 5-9 Wilson averaged 3.0 points per game and can play anywhere in the backcourt.
Two other returnees who will also see action are guards Kelli Garrison (Sr.-Johnson, Kan.) and Brittany Janz (So.-Toncia, Ill.). Garrison has played as a back-up point guard the past two years, while Janz is a good athlete who averaged just over a point a game in 17 games last year.
The list of newcomers is led by mostly junior college players, many who should see time in the rotation. Leading the way are 5-7 Megan Couch (Jr.-Mooresville, Ind.) and 5-10 Heather Larson (Jr.-Canton, Ill.), a pair of guards.
Couch comes to IWC from Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, where she led the Jaguars in scoring last year and set a school career record in three-pointers. Larson joins the Tigers after being a two-time NJCAA All-American at John Wood Community College in Quincy, Ill.
Other junior college transfers include 5-11 Angela Brinkmeyer (Jr.-Hubbard, Iowa), 6-0 Sherry Zehner (Jr.-St. Louis, Mo.) and 5-6 guard Jessica Young (Jr.-Mount Vernon, Ill.). Brinkmeyer and Zehner both will add punch to the frontcourt, while Young is actually no stranger to the IWC program. She was a member of the 2005-06 IWC team that won MCC regular season and tournament championships, playing in every game that season as a freshman. She rejoins the Tigers after two years at junior colleges.
Junior Erin Karlsgodt (Brainerd, Minn.) also joins the team this year after sitting out last season with knee problems. She transferred to IWC two years ago from Central Lakes (Minn.) College, where she averaged more than 10 points and eight rebounds per game in both seasons there.
Rounding out the roster are freshman guards Anna Jones (Cornell, Ill.) and Susie Francescon (Moline, Ill.). Jones was named first team all-state in Illinois last year and led Flanagan-Woodland High School to the Class 1A championship by scoring a state title game-record 39 points. Francescon played at Moline High School in the Quad Cities and was honorable mention all-state in Illinois. Williamson said both players should also see minutes this season in their first year.
Williamson said the team’s depth should be a positive this season, especially in the backcourt. “We feel we can play 9-10 girls easily,” he said. “Our guards are our strength, we have ‘ones’, ‘twos’, ‘threes’ and ‘fours’ who all can shoot well from the perimeter and can put the ball on the floor. We also don’t lose a lot off the bench.”
Unlike last year, IWC does not have the weight of a national ranking going into the season. Last year Wesleyan was ranked 18th in the national preseason poll, but this year the Tigers finished four spots outside the top 25. The Tigers are picked to finish second in the MCC this season in a preseason poll of league coaches. St. Ambrose was again tabbed as the league favorite.
“The conference is extremely tough, and this should be one of the most balanced years and the toughest it’s been since I’ve been here,” Williamson said. “Grand View is extremely big and talented; St. Ambrose is the returning champs and has people back. It would not surprise me if any of the top four or five teams could finish at the top.”
For more information regarding the IWC women’s basketball program or any of the Tiger athletic teams, contact sports information director Adam Glatczak (319-385-6306 phone; 319-385-6384 FAX; firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail) or log on to IWC's athletics web site at www.iwc.edu/athletics.