The past behind them, women's basketball now a contender

By Will Kennedy

In January of the 2004-2005 season the main question about women’s basketball was whether or not the team would exist the following year. However, three years after low turnout and injury forced the Scots to cancel their season, Mac is playing some excellent basketball, raising a new, entirely different question: ‘can this team make the playoffs?’With only four MIAC games played, it’s certainly early, but with a league 2-2 record that includes a victory over a strong St. Thomas team and a narrow 51-54 loss to last year’s conference runner up Gustavus Adolphus College, the Scots look like they could be a contender. “Is [a playoff berth] within the realm of possibility, absolutely,” Head Coach Ellen Thompson said. “It’s always in the back of everybody’s mind.” But, she added, “we don’t dwell on it; we just take each game as it comes.”

Mac has certainly prepared well for every game this season and for Thompson, that bodes well. “The biggest thing is that we have had a chance to win each game,” she said. In other words, with a few lucky bounces, Mac could have been 4-0 in the MIAC, perched atop the conference entering the December break from play.

After winning only seven total games last year and two during the 2005-2006 season, Mac’s three early wins-including a non-MIAC victory over Texan rival Austin College-suggests a remarkable revival for Mac women’s basketball. While the rest of the league certainly didn’t predict the Scots would get off to a good start-Mac was picked to finish 10th out of 12 teams in a preseason MIAC poll-Thompson wasn’t shocked by the quick assent of the program . “I know what my team is capable of and I know what each player is capable of,” Thompson said, “It’s exciting more than it is surprising.”

The players themselves seem to relish the underdog role. Trailing 10-time MIAC champions St. Thomas last week late in the game, the Scots played shutdown defense, outscoring the Tommies 12-2 in the game’s final three minutes on their way to a victory. No one played a greater role than MIAC athlete of the week Ann Baltzer ’10, who scored 27 points on the night and grabbed 13 rebounds.

“It’s really great to exceed everyone’s expectations,” she said. “It made us realize that we are able to compete in the league.”

Thompson echoed her player’s words. “My players were fired up to get that win,” she said, “it was a great feeling to know that our hard work paid off.”

The Scots will have to replicate that intensity many times over if they hope to emerge as one of the MIAC’s elite teams. Currently, six teams are tied in fourth place with a 2-2 record. Only six total teams make the playoffs. Comprised almost exclusively of underclassman, Macalester will have to treat every game as a learning experience as the team battles in what is shaping up to be a tightly bunched conference, but Thompson says she has already seen remarkably progress for a team that, in spite of its youth, adapts quickly and works hard. “I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished so far,” Thompson said.