Without Jones, women’s basketball counting on cast of seven seniors

Taylor+Pike+%E2%80%9914+drives+to+the+hoop+during+a+game+last+season.+Pike+was+third+on+the+team+in+scoring+last+year+and+is+one+of+seven+returning+seniors+for+the+Scots.+Photo+courtesy+of+Christopher+Mitchell.

Christopher Mitchell / Sport Sho

Taylor Pike ’14 drives to the hoop during a game last season. Pike was third on the team in scoring last year and is one of seven returning seniors for the Scots. Photo courtesy of Christopher Mitchell.

Taylor Pike ’14 drives to the hoop during a game last season. Pike was third on the team in scoring last year and is one of seven returning seniors for the Scots. Photo courtesy of Christopher Mitchell.
Taylor Pike ’14 drives to the hoop during a game last season. Pike was third on the team in scoring last year and is one of seven returning seniors for the Scots. Photo courtesy of Christopher Mitchell.

As a chill bites the air and the fall sports seasons come to a close, the focus of Macalester sports fans will soon shift from the outdoor fields of soccer and football to indoors. On the hardwood courts of the Leonard Center, the Macalester Women’s Basketball team is aiming to improve with a squad built around a core group of returners.

Led by captains Emma Leyden ’14 (Berkeley, Calif.) and Carmen Whitehead ’14 (Greeley, Colo.), the team boasts seven seniors.

“We’ve got seven great leaders, great contributors with really valuable experience,” Coach Ellen Thompson said. “I’m excited. It’s a great group, it really is. They are fun to be around and really hard workers.”

With the loss of a single senior to graduation this team looks capitalize on continuity, while also bringing in new energy with five freshman additions. That senior, however, was a key element of the Scots last year. Kyanna Jones ’13 led the team last year in scoring, assists and steals, and was second in rebounds per game. Seeing how the Scots fill the void left by her graduation will be an interesting storyline this season.

Coming off a frustrating campaign last year in which they finished 4-21, going 3-19 in MIAC play, the team is hungry for improvement and ready to add a few more notches in its win column.

“We really want to compete, I think last year was a bit of a disappointment,” Leyden said. “We were always right there with our our competition, but we want to finish the game because we came up a little too short a lot last year.”

For Leyden it’s been a journey over the past three years, as she has grown from her freshman year when she did not play a minute in varsity games to this season where she expects to start games. The group of seniors stressed setting a tone of positive team chemistry built around healthy competition.

“I think the biggest emphasis on our team is working hard,” said Veronika Jakubovie ’14 (Maple Grove, Minn). “The coaches do a really good job developing players and understanding the game.
Basically you work hard and you earn what you get.”

Thompson was impressed with the work ethic throughout the off-season of her returning players.

“One of areas that we really wanted to improve in was our overall shooting,” she said. “We just weren’t really good shooters last year and our team has taken it upon themselves to get in the gym and take a lot of extra shots and we’re really hoping that pays off this year.”

In her tenure leading the Scots, Thompson has twice been named MIAC Coach of the Year and took the team to the MIAC playoffs in the ’09-’10 and ’10-’11 seasons.

“I think we kind of always have the goal of trying to get into the conference playoffs,” she said. “We did that back to back seasons a couple years ago.”

To do so, this team will need to finish in the top six in conference play, a huge jump over their 11th place finish from the 2012-2013 season.

Though the Scots lost both scrimmages they’ve played so far, against Anoka Ramsey Community College and Crown College, results weren’t all bad.

“They showed that we can come out hard and have some really good stretches but they also showed some weaknesses and what we can work on,” Leyden said. “We’re hoping we got all the little mistakes out and we can come out Friday with a more polished game.”

The Scots will open the season with a tournament in St. Joseph Nov. 15, playing two of three non-conference games before opening up MIAC play Nov. 21 at home against St. Mary’s.
Thompson’s optimism for the season was tempered by respect for the level of competition the team will face this season. She pointed out that the MIAC typically has women’s basketball teams ranked in the top five nationally.

“As always you have to understand the challenges of the conference,” she said. “I think our biggest lesson is that you can never take time off. You have to come into every day with focus and a hard work ethic and carry that through each game, each practice the whole season.”

The team is always looking for fan support when they host games at the Leonard Center. Including the initial MIAC Conference game on Nov. 21 against St. Mary’s, the Scots will play a string of three home games, with Concordia-Moorhead coming Dec. 4 and Bethel visiting Dec. 7 before Winter Break.

The players and coaches are hopeful that their commitment to hard work and drive for progress will produce a winning season.

“We want to be the best team we can be, win as many games as we can win, and let the chips fall where they may,” Thompson said.