Basketball season started back up at Olivet this past homecoming week with both Tiger squads poised to pick up from where they left off last season.
The Lady Tigers finished last season with a 20-12 record, being knocked off in the first round of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship Tournament to the eventual national champion, Marian University. They graduated seniors Ashley Freeman and Kayla Krassman, and have since picked up three freshmen players: Ashley Ford, Kayla Rambo, and MacKenzie Ream. Sophomore transfer Olivia Schmidt joins the team as well.
“They bring us a lot of depth,” graduate assistant and coach, Aaron Larson says. “We think our freshmen can be impact players coming in right away. They are players that we think can contribute on a high level. And for Schmidt, our transfer player, it won’t be as much of an adjustment for her, coming in as a sophomore, playing in a college basketball game. She’s experienced, and we’re excited about what they all bring to the table.”
Aside from this year’s new players, the lady Tiger team is made up of eight seniors, one junior, and four sophomores. These ladies return from past seasons where the Tigers won twenty or more games in each season, won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) tournament, and played deep into the NAIA National Championship Tournament.
“I think we [the seniors] bring a lot of leadership,” senior Trinity Davis says. “I think there are a lot of us who understand our defense and the way we play, and that just brings experience. You see it even in NBA teams; teams with more experience tend to do pretty well as compared to teams without as much experience. I think we have a lot of experience under our belt. With our leadership and experience, the combination of driving and shooting, and basketball IQ, I think we bring a team. Add everyone else in—we bring a super team.”
“The experience is amazing,” head coach, Lauren Stamatis said. “We’re already at the point right now where we’re throwing in more advanced techniques and levels that we couldn’t have done last year until the last month of the season. And [this season] we’re doing it within the first week or two of practice. There’s a lot of them to help the newcomers. It’s really helped us to take what we were doing to a higher level.”
Early in the season, the lady Tigers will hit the road, as seven of their first ten games will be away from home, including a six-game road trip from October 31 to November 15th.
“That’s going to take a lot of getting prepared,” sophomore Kayla Ross said. “That’s a lot of traveling for us, and we need to stay focused.”
On the other hand, the men’s basketball team is coming off what some might call a rebuilding season, in which they won 15 games and lost 16. They won a game in the CCAC tournament, but were knocked out by the eventual tournament champion, Robert Morris University. They graduated Abe Barwegen, Ryan Carl, Tyler Crater, Troy Swindle, and Sherrar Tate. They are still anchored down by more than ten returning players.
“I think we have a good mix [of players],” head coach, Trey Hodge says. “We’ve got two very important positions on our team coming back. We’ve got a solid inside position player, Nic Reed, and with the experience that (point guard) Dane Schlafley got last year as a starter, we’re set pretty good.”
“We’re really excited about this year,” assistant coach, Nick Birkey said. “From the second semester we had last season and the way we finished…we had a good final stretch, winning ten of our final thirteen games. We have most of those guys back, along with a couple of new transfer players, freshman, and a couple of JV guys step in. We’re excited about our roster, what we’re doing in practice right now, and the type of energy we’re bringing to practice.”
The centerpiece of the team remains sophomore player Reed, who last season held the title of CCAC freshman of the year and had an All-American honorable mention. There are a lot of high goals for him this season, set by himself and those around him.
“I think the team goals for this season are to win a championship while also continuing to improve our younger players and getting them ready to contribute when their numbers are called in the upcoming years,” Reed said. “You can always improve during the year, and I think our team was a testament to that last year because of how our record changed after Christmas break. In saying that, I think our goals are to constantly improve individually and also bring home some hardware after the season. I think we can finish the season ranked nationally in the top 25, win our conference tournament, and hopefully be able to make a run into the national tournament.”
The season started for both the men and women’s teams this past Friday of homecoming week. The lady Tigers won against Cornerstone University while the men lost to the University of Saint Francis, IL.