1993 NCAA Div. III champions
2014-15 overall record: 10-15
Conference record/finish: 1-13 (eighth place)
Letterwinners lost: 5
Letterwinners returning: 10
Starters lost: 1 (G- Kenzie Vander Molen)
Starters returning: 4 (G- Alison Malaby, G- Mariah Swartzentruber, F- Tina Lane, F- Jackie Kriegel)
All-Iowa Conference players returning: 0
Top returning scorer: Mariah Swartzentruber, 8.5 ppg
Top returning rebounder: Jackie Kriegel, 5.8 rpg
Last Iowa Conference tournament appearance: 2005
Iowa Conference titles: 6 (most recent, 1998
NCAA Div. III playoff berths: 5 (most recent, 1998)
NCAA Div. III National titles: 1, 1998
With potentially the best incoming freshman class in recent history and the return of several injured players, a youthful Central College women’s basketball team is looking to turn the corner in the 2015-16 season.
Chelsea Petersen is entering her third season of engineering a successful turnaround for the Dutch. She has coached Central to back-to-back double-digit win seasons after a few years of struggles in what is a traditionally successful program, and significantly boosted the talent level through her tireless recruiting efforts. The Dutch have won six Iowa Conference titles with five NCAA playoff berths and won the 1993 Division III title.
Central’s 10-15 record last season was remarkable, given the Dutch endured a staggering rash of injuries that hit eight players with starting experience. But nine letterwinners return.
“Last season, a lot of our incoming players had an opportunity to see floor time due to some injuries the team sustained,” Petersen said. “We were proud of what the team accomplished last season given the circumstances surrounding injuries.”
Nearly all of those sidelined return, joined by a talented incoming class that Petersen feels fits perfectly into the team’s needs.
“In my time at Central, this is the best all-around freshman class we’ve had in terms of fitting our team’s needs,” she said. “We’re excited about the potential our freshmen have, not only on the basketball court, but off the court as well.”
The rookies arrive on the heels of a deep and promising sophomore class. But the mesh with upperclass players isn’t automatic.
“We’ve had incredible team chemistry during my time here,” Petersen said. “The players need to continue to work on bonding as teammates and being passionate about the game they love.”
The Dutch want to contend this season by valuing the basketball and getting to the charity stripe.
“We have limited our turnovers, been able to attack the basket and get to the free throw line and played phenomenal overall team defense over the last few years,” Petersen said. “If we can continue to excel in those statistical areas and improve our rebounding, we will be in a good position to win games this season.”
But to contend, the Dutch must focus on process.
“A primary focus this season is to improve every week and get better with each game we play,” she said.
Guards—The Dutch return seven guards from last season’s roster, but graduated their top two scorers at the position. Gone are Rachel Evans, who led the team with 13.5 points per game, and Kenzie Vander Molen who added 10.1 points, although both missed several games due to injury, giving experience to several returning players who are ready to fill in.
“Players who contribute to the team graduate annually,” Petersen said. “This is a normal cycle and an aspect of collegiate athletics that we should embrace. It will be a fun journey to watch the story of this team unfold and to see what players fill the needs we have.”
Several players will be called on, including 5-foot-6 junior Mariah Swartzentruber. She averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds last year.
“Mariah Swartzentruber was our most improved player last year,” Petersen said. “She is a streaky shooter who can hit a few quick threes to get you into a game. Mariah has worked hard this offseason on being consistent and improving her defense. She is one of our captains and also a great off-the-court leader and role model for our younger players.”
Also returning returning in the backcourt is 5-5 sophomore Emily Dine. The Tampa, Fla. native played in 17 games last season, averaging 2.5 points in 8 minutes per game.
“We are excited to see Emily develop this season and play significant minutes,” Petersen said. “She is very good at scoring the ball and pushing our offense. Emily focused on improving several facets of her game in the offseason and it will be fun to watch her be rewarded for the work she put in.”
The Dutch will get a big boost with the return of 5-11 Emily Neff, who missed all of last season due to injury. Neff started all 25 games as a freshman in 2013-14, averaging 5.6 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“Emily is a special player,” Petersen said. “She can score from the perimeter and play lights-out defense. We feel comfortable with Emily matched up against any team’s best player one-on-one. She put a lot of time into her ball handling skills and we look for her to be more of an offensive threat this year. She is a great team leader and she will help the younger players transition into their roles.”
Alison Malaby, a 5-6 sophomore captain, played in 24 games as a freshman and averaged 4.3 points per game. She received the team’s Rookie of the Year Award.
“Alison played a lot of minutes as a freshman and gained valuable experience,” Petersen said. “She became comfortable attacking the rim and scoring off the dribble. We are going to ask Alison to consistently drive to the basket and finish at the rim this year, all while balancing a good perimeter shot. She is great from a leadership perspective by pushing players around her to be better every day.”
Scrappy 5-4 sophomore guard Jessica Helton returns after averaging 17 minutes per game.
“Jess is a very strong defensive player,” Petersen said. “We envision her stepping into the role that Rachel Evans held last year and getting the defensive stop when the team needs it. We look for Jess to be a defensive playmaker and really hassle other teams. She can get turnovers and create scoring opportunities for her teammates.”
Also returning is Bedford native Savanna Thornton. The 5-10 junior played in 13 games a year ago, averaging 2.5 points.
“Savanna is a tremendous shooter,” Petersen said. “She has worked this offseason to improve her quickness and overall conditioning. Savanna will have opportunities to knock down shots, particularly against zone defenses.”
While the Dutch have solid guard depth returning, a likely key contributor will be playing her first game in a Central uniform this year. Claire Marburger, a 5-9 freshman from Perry, was a highly recruited three-time first-team Class 3A high school all-state pick who could also be utilized on the front line. Petersen expects an immediate impact.
“Claire is going to be an outstanding player,” Petersen said. “She can attack the rim, shoot from the perimeter and rebound. She’s unique because you can play her at multiple positions and she can impact every phase of the game. We are excited to have a player of Claire’s caliber in our program and we look forward to her being a significant contributor for us.”
Some of the other freshman guards also have the potential to see floor time, including 5-6 Nicole Silvers from Byron, Ill., 5-8 Kaitlyn Johnson from Stockport, 5-7 Kristin Hubert of Moville and 5-5 Brianna Wells of Fonda.
“Nicole (Silvers) sees the floor extremely well,” Petersen said. “She pushes the ball in transition, scores the ball from the perimeter and is a tremendous free-throw shooter. Nicole and Emily (Dine) are going to push each other daily to get better.
“Kaitlyn (Johnson) can create almost any shot she wants. Because she has height and can handle the ball, she can alleviate full-court pressure situations. We’re excited to see how Kaitlyn develops over the course of her freshman year.
“Kristin (Hubert) is very sound offensively and has a presence on the court due to her strength,” Petersen said. “She certainly has the potential to step in and push our upperclassmen in practice and make the entire team better in the process.
“Brianna (Wells) is one of the fastest players on our team. She’s not the biggest player, but because of her quickness, she can get into positions to score the ball while the other team is trying to recover defensively.”
Central is again without the services of junior Abbie Agan, who was injured in preseason. The New Sharon native moved into the lineup because of injuries last year and averaged 4.8 points in eight games last season before also being sidelined.
Forwards—The Dutch return several forwards that are expected to contribute in a big way.
Jackie Kriegel, a 5-10 sophomore, played in all 25 games as a freshman, averaging 4.9 points en route to winning the team’s Hustle Award. Her 5.8 rebounds per game are tops for all returners.
“Jackie is one of the best post players I’ve seen as a collegiate coach,” Petersen said. “She can run the floor, score the ball and is an outstanding area rebounder. Jackie creates additional offensive opportunities for our team with the way she can rebound on the offensive end. Jackie brings a lot of intangible qualities to the team and we expect her to be a key factor to our team’s success.”
Tina Lane, another 5-10 sophomore, returns after being named the team’s newcomer of the year last season. Lane averaged 5.4 points per game, second among returning players.
“Tina is special because she can step out and play the perimeter as a forward,” Petersen said. “She is a good ball handler and creates matchup issues for opponents. Tina can be a very dominant player and we expect her to attack the basket offensively and defend extremely well.”
Schedule—A road-heavy schedule, with eight of 11 non-conference games away from P.H. Kuyper Gym, includes two tournaments. The Dutch will travel to Illinois, Minnesota and Colorado.
“We scheduled it this way intentionally because it’s important for our younger players to learn how to win away from home,” Petersen said.
“We wanted to add some tournaments with back-to-back games. The conference season becomes a grind. Playing back-to-back prepares us for the physical and mental challenge conference play presents. We have to learn how to go on a business trip and take care of business.”
Central’s opens November 14 at Blackburn (Ill.) and begin their 14-game conference slate January 6 at Luther, among this year’s title favorites.
“The most important thing in conference play is to have a short memory,” Petersen said. “If things don’t go as expected on a Wednesday, you have to put that out of your mind for Saturday’s game. The same goes for winning on a Wednesday. You can’t celebrate for too long before preparing for Saturday.”
Petersen said women’s basketball in the Iowa Conference has a strong reputation.
“Our league is very physical and grueling,” Petersen said. “If you’re a college player, you want to play against the best and most challenging opponents every game. Our conference is consistently regarded as a top-three conference at the Division III level and that’s evident every game.”
Steady progress is the focus.
“One of the most exciting things in the conference is knowing how much your team will improve from the first game to the last,” Petersen said. “I truly believe that if we can get into the (six-team league) tournament, it’s any team’s chance.”
Coaching staff—Petersen is excited about the coaches she has around her. She brought in former Augustana (S.D.) standout Alex Feeney to pair with returning assistant Austin Hellbusch.
“We have a tremendous coaching staff,” Petersen said. “I can’t think of two individuals better suited for the positions.”
Feeney spent the previous two seasons as a graduate assistant coach at South Dakota State University, helping the Jackrabbits claim the 2014 Summit League title and the 2015 Summit League tournament crown, while also gaining a berth in the 2014 WNIT, reaching the final four. She was a four-year starter at NCAA Division II Augustana, racking up 1,723 points and 828 rebounds.
“Much like our incoming freshman class, Coach Feeney is a winner,” Petersen said. “She’s won at many different levels and is extremely knowledgeable about the game. Coach Feeney loves Central College and has worked extremely hard. I am excited about working with her.”
Hellbusch returns for his second season.
“Coach Hellbusch is our JV coach and puts in a ton of extra time for this program,” Petersen said. “Not only does he coach the JV, he travels to varsity games and helps with recruiting. He extends his duties on a daily basis and does a tremendous job with our program.”
Rule changes—There are significant rule changes for women’s college basketball this season. The game is moving from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters and teams will now get five timeouts per game instead of six. The foul situation will also change this year with each team now shooting two free throws on the fifth team foul committed by the opposing team each quarter. The team fouls will reset with each 10-minute quarter.
“The bottom line is that our staff has to prepare our team for the new rules,” Petersen said. “We changed the format of our scrimmages this season to allow our coaching staff and players to compete within the new guidelines. We also have had several opportunities in practice to simulate the new rule changes. The goal is to get our players as comfortable as possible prior to November 14th.”
Goals—Petersen knows with the right approach, the young Dutch could make great strides.
“At the end of the day, if you put yourself in a position to win a game down the stretch, that’s the best position you can be in,’” Petersen said. “Our goal this season is to put ourselves in as many of these situations as possible. We will work hard, continue to get better daily, and model our values through our behaviors. If we take care of the areas of the game we need to take care of, compete, and work hard, this season can be a turning point for our program.”