Sam Ekstrom-Staff Writer
Just two years removed from a 10-18 season, the Dordt College women’s basketball team is poised to make a leap to the conference’s top tier.
The Defenders won five more conference games in 2012 than they did in 2011, and they return six seniors, while losing just one player to graduation.
The pieces appear to be in place, as seventh-year head coach Craig Stiemsma sees it.
“I feel like the seniors know what the norms are for practice. They know what we expect, and they know how to encourage younger players,” Stiemsma said.
“Plus, they know what it’s like to go through the wars of the GPAC and the season, and they understand a lot of things about basketball and what we want done.”
The Defenders’ starting lineup consists of four seniors. Jessica Jelsema and Danelle Boone will control the guard positions as Kara Van Dyke and Elise Maresh roam in the post. Sophomore Emily Neuman rounds out the starting five.
Seniors Jaimie Kok and Kayla Broekhuis should be contributors off the bench, while freshman Kim Kroeze and sophomore Robyn Blount will also see time in the rotation.
Just about everybody got involved in Dordt’s season-opening win against York College. Ten different players scored as the Defenders drubbed the Panthers 80-50.
Van Dyke, who scored 12 points in the game, believes her team has an uncommon level of chemistry.
“I don’t know of many other teams that have six girls who have been playing on the same team together for four years now,” said Van Dyke, last year’s leading scorer with 12.8 points per game.
“The experience that we have with this many seniors and even a handful of sophomores is huge, and I think it will pay off in games.”
Boone, entering her fourth varsity season, believes the program’s improvement stems from high-quality practice sessions.
“It has been amazing to see the progress that we have made over the past couple seasons,” said Boone, whose 45 percent 3-point shooting was tops on last year’s team. “Each and every day we are improving our skills and becoming a better team than we were the day before.”
The Defenders will have to compete in the rigorous Greater Plains Athletic Conference, which contained four of the last season’s top 12 NAIA teams: Morningside, Concordia, Northwestern and Briar Cliff.
Dordt knocked off both Concordia and Briar Cliff in 2012, which gives them confidence as they look to join their rivals in the upper half of the standings.
To make the jump, the Defenders will have to be true to their nickname and rely on a sound defensive mindset. Their 18 points allowed in the first half against York was a good start.
“We have to live and die with the defense,” said Stiemsma. “You don’t win unless you can play good defense. Defense and rebounding are the most critical elements of the game, in my opinion.”
Offensively, Dordt will seek to pick up right where they left off last season. In 2012, the Defenders set a team-record with 198 3-pointers made.
That record may be in jeopardy with this year’s gameplan. Dordt buried eight 3’s in the season-opener.
“We feel like [3-point shooting] will be one of our biggest weapons,” said Stiemsma. “We’ll shoot them in transition. We’ll shoot them out of sets. We’ll shoot a lot of them.”
Strategy aside, the squad’s biggest asset may be its tight-knit senior class. Much like last season’s senior-laden men’s team, these six senior women simply enjoy playing with one another.
“I absolutely love playing with these girls,” said Van Dyke. “They work hard in practice and are huge encouragers to myself and the rest of the team.”