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Changes bring energy, excitement to Dutch women’s basketball

Women's basketball | Nov. 11, 2013

PELLA—It’s a new beginning for Central College women’s basketball.

Led by first-year interim head coach Chelsea Petersen, the Dutch are embracing change and expecting greatness. Petersen joined the staff a year ago as assistant coach and helped pilot Central to a 10-15 overall record, its most victories since 2003-04.

It’s a dream job for Petersen.

“I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the Central College family,” Petersen said. “We have an unbelievable team of athletic administrators that work effortless to ensure our programs are supported and well positioned for success. I don’t think there’s a better Division III job in the state. Beyond our women’s basketball program and the athletics office, the broader campus community, senior level administrators, and faculty members do a terrific job of ensuring our student-athletes have a great experience at Central.”

The Dutch return seven letterwinners and three starters from the squad that won seven of its first 10 games, but graduated its two leading scorers and rebounders.

“Anytime you graduate a large part of your scoring, you reevaluate your positions,” said Petersen. “We graduated players who combined for a lot of minutes last year, but we have players who have been competing and consistently demonstrating that they are prepared for the minutes available.”

Now a young Dutch squad tries to take the next step forward under new leadership.

“It’s been an exciting transition,” Petersen said. “All of the women have embraced the coaching change and are excited to be in the gym. I’ve been very pleased with our leadership. After a few weeks of practice, it is evident that there’s a new energy and level of competitiveness in the gym.”

Petersen touts the incoming recruiting class—a guard-heavy bunch—as the best Central has had in several years.

“I really like the new class coming in,” said Petersen. “I particularly enjoy how their skills complement the talent already on the team. Moreover, we really have depth on the team that will make our practice sessions and our pregame workouts much more competitive simply because the overall talent level on the team will allow us to do some things we haven’t been able to do in the past.

“Success in games is directly related to your ability to prepare for games. By having as much talent as we have, we will be much better prepared to meet the challenges of conference play.”

The team is determined to improve on last season’s Iowa Conference finish and secure a spot in the conference tournament, Petersen said.

“It is a clean slate,” said Petersen. “Anytime you look at a basketball season, you’re looking at trying to play a perfect 40 minutes by late in the season. I expect our players to come out and compete every night. We need to learn how to finish in late game situations and that comes down to practice. At the end of the day, we expect to be in games and put ourselves in positions to win those games. A lot of it comes down to practice and preparation.”

Guards—The new-look Dutch will implement a four-guard offense, utilizing their backcourt strength.

“One of the challenges in coaching is finding the right offensive system to complement your personnel,” Petersen said. “Every year our offensive system will be reviewed in order to assess whether or not it’s the offensive system best suited for our current roster. This four-guard offense does a terrific job of highlighting the skill sets of our current players. It allows players to play freely and make appropriate reads based on the opponent’s defensive execution.

“In the guard position, I see a lot of individuals with the ability to make different reads on different parts of the court. There are a lot of interchangeable roles.”

Central returns two of its three starting guards from last season—5-foot-5 junior Rachel Evans and 5-7 classmate Kenzie Vander Molen. Evans was third on the team in scoring with 8.3 points per game, while Vander Molen, who averaged 7.1 points, was an all-Iowa Conference honorable mention selection.

“Kenzie’s done a great job preparing in the offseason,” said Petersen. “She really turns the corner, gets to the rim and sees the floor well. Rachel is always a competitor, hustling on the floor and making smart defensive plays. She did a lot of good things late in games last season.”

The Dutch return two other guards with significant experience—5-4 junior Kalli Richardson and 5-9 senior Courtney Kelderman. Richardson started 19 games and averaged a team-high 2.3 assists along with 7.9 points. Kelderman appeared in 23 games and averaged 2.7 points.

“Kalli saw a lot of minutes at the point last season,” Petersen said. “She’s a player who really understands the game. We run through a lot of situations in practice based on what Kenzie and Kalli see from the point guard position. Courtney has the ability to knock down a lot of shots. We’re going to set her up to do some good things for us.”

With the new offense in place and the desire to run the floor, many newcomers will also have the opportunity to see the court.

“We have some incoming players who will be very effective for us,” said Petersen. “They need to keep working hard and pushing our team every day.”

Posts—The four-guard set shifts the focus from size to speed and efficiency. The undersized Dutch graduated its two leading rebounders, but returns starting center Bry Pierce, a 6-0 junior as well as 5-11 senior Hilary Beaird and 5-8 senior Jessy Stika.

Pierce averaged 6.0 points and 4.1 rebounds while Stika scored 7.2 points with 5.6 rebounds and Beaird scored 1.5 points with 3.0 boards.

“Bry saw a lot of minutes last year and has a lot of familiarity with the game,” Petersen said. “She understands the expectation to run the floor and speed the game up. Jessy was leading the team in rebounding after the first half of the season and Hilary provides great leadership.”

Stika was one of two players to average at least seven points and five rebounds per game and tied a record for highest free throw percentage in a game—100 percent on 12-for-12 shooting. Beaird was named the team’s most improved player.

“Though this is a guard-heavy offense, the post position is a crucial component of our success,” said Petersen. “Think of the post player as the one observing all cuts and reads, then directing the guards accordingly. It is imperative that our post players communicate effectively and approach each game with aggressiveness. The posts need to be ready to slip to the basket, reverse pivot and shoot, drive to the basket, or make any other relevant read. There are ample opportunities for our post player to score offensively.”

Petersen envisions a large rotation of players in order to keep the team fresh.

“Our offense positions players to do a lot of good things based on their individual skill sets, but our team spends a large part of practice emphasizing our defensive principles,” Petersen said. “Fundamentally, we need to come up with big defensive stops, push the ball in transition, execute our offense, and value the ball. It is a combination of offense and defense, quickness and efficiency, which will lead to our success. In addition, as a coaching staff, it is our responsibility to keep our team fired up and confident. It’s hard to beat a confident team that’s executing late in the season.”

Schedule—The Dutch tackle a challenging non-conference slate before playing its way through the Iowa Conference. The non-league portion of the schedule includes road trips to Minnesota, Illinois and Puerto Rico and sports teams from those three areas, as well as South Dakota and New Jersey.

“We have great opportunities to put some wins on the board, but it is a difficult non-conference schedule,” Petersen said. “It’s important to win in the non-conference schedule to build confidence and prepare for the Iowa Conference—one of the strongest conferences in the nation.”

Five of Central’s first eight league games are in Pella, including its first two.

Although Central was 3-11 in conference play last year, five of its 11 losses were by seven points or less—including one by two points and one in overtime. The two-point loss was in the season finale to conference champion Simpson.

“The Iowa Conference is anybody’s game, any night,” said Petersen. “Simpson was the top team last year and I certainly see them, Wartburg and Dubuque as the top contenders. But any team can win it. We will prepare for every game with the same intensity and dedication and hopefully position ourselves to win.

“As a team our goal is to be competitive, but that is by no means our end goal. Women’s basketball at Central College has been very strong in the past, winning the National Title in 1993. Our goal is to first be competitive in all games, then win Conference and then go deep in the Division III tournament. Being a good team is not the goal. Our goal is for Central to be known for great women’s basketball teams.

“It’s important to take it one game at a time.”

Coaching staff—Petersen added two new assistant coaches for her first season as a head coach.

Tyler Morris, a 2004 Northern Iowa graduate, and Morgan Evans, a 2013 William Penn grad, are in their first seasons at Central. Morris is a veteran high school coach, with experience dating back to 1999 and spanning three states (Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska).

“The bottom line is that success in anything—coaching, business, etc.—it all starts with getting the right people,” Petersen said. “If you get the right people and put them into a system that works, you are going to have success.”

Fan support—Petersen is encouraged by the support of the college and the Pella community.

“I can’t say enough about the fans,” said Petersen. “I’ve never seen a community as strong as the one I’ve seen here. There are familiar faces at every Dutch athletics event. Central has a great basketball tradition, as does Pella. The energy of the crowd definitely has an impact. We’re excited to go out and do some things in the community this year and build our program.

“We’re very excited for this year. We’re building off of a great tradition of success and excellence. This is the most exciting time to be a part of the women’s basketball program. The most important piece by far is the group of young women who are committed to improving every day.”

Central opens the 2013-14 campaign at Grinnell Nov. 15.

Central College