1993 NCAA Div. III champions
2011-12 overall record: 7-18
Conference record/finish: 2-14/ninth place
Letterwinners lost: 5
Letterwinners returning: 10
Starters lost: 3 (Sarah Paulson, Kelsey Schuring, Cory Bacon)
Starters returning: 2 (Alyssa Schwartz, Bry Pierce)
Top returning scorer: Alyssa Schwartz, 9.8
Top returning rebounder: Nicole Strasko, 5.4
The Central College women’s basketball team is set to climb this year.
Second-year coach Mike Jacobsma led the Dutch to a 7-18 record last year, the most wins in seven seasons, yet closed with a ninth-place Iowa Conference finish. But a season-ending upset overtime victory against Wartburg College with a 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Dutch a huge springboard for 2012-13.
“We turned a corner with that win,” Jacobsma said. “Putting Central back on the map isn’t going to happen overnight, but the momentum from that game carried right into the offseason.”
The Dutch return 10 letterwinners and two starters from the club that led the league in rebounding by a 5-rebound margin. Size is still an issue, but the Dutch will make up for it with speed, Jacobsma said. Taking care of the ball will also be key.
“Leading the conference in rebounding was quite an honor and it needs to be consistent again this year,” Jacobsma said. “We need to limit opponents to one shot so we can push the ball and play up-tempo. But we need to value every possession to make sure we get a good, quality shot.”
Central is searching for its first winning record in 10 seasons and its first berth in the conference tourney since 2005. Having the framework already in place gives the program another boost.
“We’re much more prepared this year,” Jacobsma said. “The returners already know our philosophies and the newcomers are familiar with the program. It’s huge for the first few weeks of practice.”
Rising to the top takes a team effort.
“You can’t do it by yourself,” Jacobsma said. “Every player is expected to grab a hold of the rope and pull everyone up together.”
After graduating the team’s starting point guard, the position is somewhat unsettled but the Dutch have options.
Kalli Richardson is the most experienced guard. The 5-foot-3 sophomore averaged 2.1 points while playing in 23 games last year.
“She’s a vocal leader and a really good 3-point shooter,” Jacobsma said.
Kenzie Vander Molen, a 5 -6 sophomore, transferred to Central at semester last year and appeared in 12 games.
“Kenzie is multi-dimensional,” Jacobsma said. “She is confident knocking down the open jumper but is really good at creating opportunities for her teammates to get a great shot.”
Another possibility is 5-3 senior co-captain Katie Kepford.
“She’s a lefty, which is an advantage for her,” Jacobsma said. “Not a lot of point guards in the league are left-handed. Katie is tough, is a good shooter and is ready to compete for the spot.”
Senior co-captain Alyssa Schwartz scored the second-most points last year, averaging 9.8 and hitting 31.8 percent behind the arc. The three-time letterwinner had 3.5 rebounds per game and is already in the school’s record books for career 3-point field goals (70).
“We’re expecting a lot from Alyssa with her senior leadership on and off the court,” Jacobsma said. “Her game experience is key to our success.”
Courtney Kelderman, a 5-9 junior, showed steady improvement on the junior varsity last year.
“Courtney’s a dead-eye 3-point shooter,” Jacobsma said. “She has great range and wants the ball in her hands.”
A 5-8 sophomore, Lauren Sharp spent most of last year gaining experience on the junior varsity.
“Lauren comes from a coaching family and the sport is in her blood,” Jacobsma said. “She has that mentality of doing the necessary things to help the team win.”
Abby Nuese, 5-7 freshman from Marshalltown, and Katie Sunderman, a 5-6 freshman from Pella, will also get a look.
“Abby’s a long, athletic wing and a really good shooter,” Jacobsma said. “Katie brings her best every day and I’m excited about her defensive ball pressure.”
Two-time letterwinner Annie Sarcone, a 5-6 junior, was a steady contributor off the bench and averaged 3.9 points and 1.1 rebounds last year.
“Annie’s an all-American softball player,” Jacobsma said. “That program’s winning tradition is what women’s basketball is striving for and Annie can provide insight into what it takes.”
Rachel Evans emerged as a floor leader last year but is recovering from an ACL injury. The 5-5 sophomore appeared in 21 games and averaged 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds.
“She’s progressed well after her injury, but it takes time when you’re away from the game that long, Jacobsma said. “We are excited about the defensive intensity she brings every day.”
Shelbi Stimpson, a 5-9 freshman from Galt, Mo., could make an immediate impact.
“Shelbi is a lefty and scored over 1,000 points in high school,” Jacobsma said. “She graduated with only seven kids in her class, so playing at the college level is eye-opening for her and she’s excited to get on the court with talented players.”
Three-time letterwinner Nicole Strasko averaged 7.6 points and was a top rebounder with 5.4. The 5-8 senior co-captain also had 32 steals.
“Nicole is our worker,” Jacobsma said. “She’s not afraid to jump into the pile and grab the ball. She finishes every play and is a great leader for our underclassmen.”
Jacobsma is expecting Jessy Stika, a 5-9 junior, to surprise some people. She appeared in 18 games last season.
“Jessy has stepped up her game and we’re excited for her to have a breakout year,” he said. “She is playing with more confidence and we expect her to impact our team.”
Alyssa Henrich, a 5-9 freshman from Newell, is another option.
“Alyssa’s high school pressed the entire game, which is the style we’re going for,” Jacobsma said. “She’s an athletic player and it’ll be fun to see her grow.”
Bry Pierce burst onto the scene and eventually cracked the starting lineup last year. The 6-0 sophomore averaged 4.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and had five blocks.
“Bry had a great summer and came back in excellent shape,” Jacobsma said. “She’s very physical at the low block and we expect her to dominate this year.”
A 5-9 junior, Hilary Beaird flashed promise last season and appeared in 23 games. She averaged 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds.
“Hilary is relentless on the boards,” Jacobsma. “She’s more of a forward-type post in that she can face the basket and shoot or take people off the dribble.”
Central’s newcomers add depth and athleticism.
“They bring a lot of energy and size on the perimeter,” Jacobsma said. “They’ll really help our up-tempo style of game for pressing, trapping and playing fearless. And they can shoot well. We’ve created sets to give all of our guards more opportunities to knock down the open shot.”
Chelsea Petersen, a Wyoming, Iowa native, is in her first season as an assistant with the Dutch. Petersen was the assistant at Anderson University (Ind.) from 2009-12 while she earned a master’s degree in business administration. She received her bachelor’s degree from NCAA Division II Upper Iowa University, where she was a four-time letterwinner and team captain.
“Chelsea is very intelligent and has an excellent basketball mind,” Jacobsma said. “She’s a very effective communicator and is really helping our post players improve their game. She’s been in their shoes and can teach them the skills to be successful.”
AJ Baker is also in her first season on staff. A 2012 Central grad, Baker was a three-time team captain and four-year letterwinner for the Dutch. She received the team’s Most Valuable Performer Award in the 2010-11 season.
“AJ was a great leader as a player and has really stepped into the coaching role,” Jacobsma. “She’s a big help to me as a head coach since she has that prior knowledge as a player.”
Cornell College switched to the Midwest Conference, leaving eight schools in the league. Jacobsma expects perennial favorites Coe College and Simpson College to be at the top again.
“Simpson and Coe are the favorites this year,” Jacobsma said. “They both have traditions of being successful. But the league is very good and a lot of games could go either way. We are looking forward to continuing our climb and playing in the conference tournament in February.”