Veteran-laden women’s basketball team seeks SLIAC championship


The Webster University women’s basketball team returns its top four scorers as well as five players who started 10 or more games during the 2011-2012 season. This wealth of experience has fifth-year coach Jordan Olufson believing his team is primed to compete for a conference championship.

Olufson said his squad is big, athletic and quick. But more than the Gorloks’ physical attributes, Olufson is impressed with how quickly the players have meshed.

“The most impressive part about the team is they’re a team,” Olufson said. “They get along. They want to be around each other, and that’s something a coach can’t put together. The team has to do that, and they want to do that. They understand the importance of it.”

Senior guard Gwen Williams defends the ball against Earlham College (Ind.) guard Bria Sneed on Friday, Nov. 16 at Grant Gymnasium. Webster won the season and home opener 58-50. PHOTO BY VICTORIA CASWELL.

Guard Gwen Williams, who missed the final 11 games of the 2011-2012 season because she was academically ineligible, returns for her senior campaign.

Williams played in 15 contests last year and led the Gorloks in scoring average (9.5 points per game) and steals (2.7 per game). Like Olufson, Williams said the team has come together quickly. She attributes that to the players working out together since the school year began in August. Williams said the Gorloks are steps ahead of teams that began their preseason workouts later in the semester.

“We all love basketball,” Williams said of her team. “If you have the whole team that pretty much has a passion for the same things, you’re going to click as well. All our personalities are perfect for each other. Everyone’s funny; everyone’s goofy. If someone’s upset on the team, it’s always that one person or a couple people that can cheer them up.

“And I feel like it’s happening early because we are dedicated to the sport. Since you have so many of us that are dedicated, we’ve become closer — even if it has nothing to do with basketball. We’re just close. We have a lot of good seniority leadership as well to basically make that go on.”

That senior leadership is provided by the trio of Williams, point guard Maggie Zehner and guard Airyn Miller. Zehner has started 77 of 83 games during her four-year career. Last season, she was second on the team in points (9.4 per game) and steals (1.9 per game), and tied for first in assists (2 per game). Miller played in every contest last year, starting 10, and scored 5.4 points per game.

Sophomore Cassie Endicott was named the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year last season. The 6-foot-1-inch forward/center scored 8.6 points per game and led the Gorloks in rebounds (5.5 per game) and blocks (2 per game).

In Webster’s 58-50 season-opening win over Earlham College (Ind.) on Friday, Nov. 16, Endicott stuffed the box score. She recorded 15 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in 28 minutes played. Olufson said he expects Endicott to have a big year, and Endicott knows what she needs to work on to make that happen.

“I need to get a lot stronger in the paint and not be scared,” Endicott said. “A lot of the times — if I’m going up against a girl — they are bigger than me, so I have to not be scared and just go for it. And I have to work on my defense and not fouling. I had troubles with staying in the game last year and fouling out.”

Other key returners for Webster include junior guard Kaliann Rikard and junior guard/forward Courtney Pursley. Rikard started 20 games last season and averaged 4.9 points and 2 assists per game.

Pursley has started all three games for Webster this season after starting just two games last season. She notched 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 2011-2012.

After playing a season at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo., 6-foot-2 sophomore forward/center Jamie Buehrig will make an impact in the post right away, said Olufson.

“We’ve got players that know what they need to do, and what we’re seeing is they’re better at what they do,” Olufson said. “(Last season), they reached a mark where they plateau. And they understand there’s another level they can get to. That’s what’s exciting from a coaching point — you’re seeing people kind of go above and beyond their level.”

With Endicott, Buehrig and 6-foot-2 freshman Kelsy O’Neill, the Gorloks boast three players taller than six feet. Olufson said Webster will pound it inside at times, but he also plans on using his guards’ quickness to play an up-tempo style the Gorloks have become known for.

Webster finished the 2011-2012 season with a 12-14 overall record and a 10-6 mark in conference play. The Gorloks’ season ended with a blowout loss to Westminster College in the SLIAC tournament semifinals. Through three games this season, Webster is 1-2. The coaches picked the Gorloks to finish tied for fourth in a SLIAC preseason poll.

Olufson said the Gorloks have several short-term and long-term goals for the season, with the biggest being a return trip to the NCAA Division III tournament. Webster last qualified for the national tourney in the 2010-2011 season.

“We talk about it every day — we want to put banners up,” Olufson said. “We want to win the conference. We want to host the conference tournament. … I’ll tell you what, this group’s special and we’re really looking forward to what they can do this year. We’re probably more pumped up this year than we have been the last couple years.”

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