With 14 players returning from last year’s 17-11 team that reached the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament, the Webster University women’s basketball team has its sights set on an even better finish this season.
“We always talk about game-by-game — (that) is what our coaches strive to have us focus on,” junior point guard Maggie Zehner said. “But our long-term goal obviously is to get further than where we were last year, because we’re more than capable of doing it.”
After shocking No. 1-seeded Westminster College in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship game, the Gorloks fell to Illinois Wesleyan College in the NCAA tournament’s opening round last year.
Only two players from last season’s squad were lost due to graduation. With seven seniors on the roster, coach Jordan Olufson — in his fifth year at Webster and his fourth as head coach – has his most experienced team yet.
“For teams to win, you’ve got to have veteran leadership,” Olufson said. “We have that in a lot of different class levels — we’ve got seniors, juniors, even sophomores that have played a lot. Having that is very valuable.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve got a lot of coaches out there, but we’ve got a lot of different voices. Sometimes, you hear the same thing from three different people, and one person’s voice just connects better with somebody else.”
The main hole Olufson will have to fill is the one left by four-year starter Katy Meyer. Meyer led Webster in scoring three of the past four years and totaled 1,194 points for her career. She averaged team-highs in points per game (14.2) and rebounds per game (7.0) last season.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big transition,” Olufson said. “A couple people will step up, which happens every year. With our press, our trap and our transition game, the flow and the transition is going to be smooth. Is it different without Katy in practices? No doubt. But are we better at some things now? Sure.
“Nobody is really hung up and we don’t talk about it. It’s part of the game. We may not be as tall, but we’re going to be real fast, quick and athletic. We’re just going to adapt to what we’ve got and go with a little different game plan, and we’ll be fine.”
The Gorloks do return seven of their top eight scorers. Zehner averaged 9.4 points and led Webster in assists (2.7) and steals (1.9). Senior guard/forward Megan Willett scored 7.6 points per game, and senior forward Tori Fenemor chipped in 6.8 points a contest.
The Gorloks also welcome back senior guard Barissa Ford. Ford started nine games and averaged 8.1 points per game last year before she sustained an ACL injury that ended her season prematurely.
“Barissa is a veteran (with) a high basketball IQ; (she is) athletic, quick, she’s got a great crossover to mid-range jumper and (she is) very good defensively,” Olufson said. “She’s going to be hard to keep off the floor. I have high expectations for her, which she knows, and I have high expectations for everybody, too.”
Olufson said he’s excited about his incoming class, which includes five freshmen and one junior college transfer. Olufson thinks freshman forward Cassie Endicott and junior guard Gwen Williams will make an immediate impact.
Listed at 6-foot-1, Endicott is the tallest player on Webster’s roster. In her senior season at Civic Memorial High School in Bethalto, Ill., Endicott averaged 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots.
Williams, who transferred to Webster after playing two seasons at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley, averaged 10.3 points, 2.6 assists and 2.1 steals a year ago. She also poured in 14.7 points per game as a freshman at Florissant Valley.
“Cassie and Gwen are really, really making some noise in practice,” Olufson said. “Cassie offers us something we haven’t had in a 6-foot-1 post player who is athletic and can post, defend, block shots and shoot. Gwen is quick as it’s going to get in the league. She might be the fastest kid from baseline to baseline in the league. We’ve added to our athleticism and we’ve added height and length.”
Olufson and Zehner said the Gorloks will play an up-tempo style to try to create odd-man break opportunities.
“Fast is the word for it,” Zehner said. “We want to push the ball as much as possible and only run our offense when we have to.”
Olufson said he wants the Gorloks to get out of the chute better than they did a year ago. In 2010, Webster stumbled to a 1-3 record before reeling off four wins in row.
The Gorloks open the regular season against Concordia University Chicago on Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. at Grant Gymnasium. Webster then plays Marian University on Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. at Grant Gymnasium.
Webster begins conference play Nov. 30 against rival Westminster. The Blue Jays return four starters, including SLIAC player of the year Rachel Backes. The Gorloks will have to get past Westminster if they want to reach their goals.
“We definitely want to win conference, and there’s no doubt we want to get back to the NCAA tournament,” Olufson said. “That’s anybody’s goal. We want to start the season well, take that into conference play, do well in conference and just kind of see what happens.”