Three returning starters and a renewed emphasis on post play have the St. Ambrose women’s basketball team working toward a familiar destination.
“We want to get back to Sioux City and the national tournament and with the chemistry on this team, we can get that done,’’ senior guard Reeann McCarty said Monday at the Queen Bees’ media day.
A return to the NAIA Division II championships would likely take a top-five finish in the talent-rich Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, something eighth-year St. Ambrose coach Krista Van Hauen views as a realistic goal for her team.
Van Hauen has challenged her team with the notion that after a 10-win season, the Queen Bees will begin unknown from a national perspective but have the potential to create a season that would result in the program’s third NAIA tourney berth in five years.
“It’s doable,’’ Van Hauen said. “Last season was a rough one, but sometimes there is so much you can learn from a year like that. Our attitude right now is completely different. They’re working to get St. Ambrose basketball back to the level we expect it to be at.’’
That starts with building around a collection of three returning starters.
One of two seniors on the roster, McCarty led St. Ambrose with averages of 13.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season.
Juniors Hailey Cook, a 5-foot-10 forward from Moline, and Aubrie Carlisle, a 5-8 guard from Carthage, Illinois, averaged 12.9 and 8.2 points respectively.
Cook believes that experience will help position the Queen Bees to regain the type of edge which has allowed St. Ambrose to win 20 games in nine of the past 12 seasons.
“That’s where the expectations are around here and that’s what we expect to do,’’ Cook said. “We expect to get back to playing the way we’re capable of and proving again that we’re still a top program.’’
Practices have been competitive and they have been physical.
Carlisle said that has been by design, something St. Ambrose players expect to help the team compete more favorably in the CCAC.
“There a lot of physical teams in our conference and we’re running some drills to help get us ready to play that way when we get into those situations,’’ Carlisle said. “We saw a year ago that we can play with some of the best teams in the conference. Now, we have to take that next step.’’
Toward that objective, the Queen Bees have shifted from a four-out, one-in approach on offense back to a more traditional approach with three guards and two interior players.
Van Hauen believes the shift to a stronger post presence will also benefit St. Ambrose against its conference rivals.
“I think it will be a good match for what we see most often in the CCAC,’’ Van Hauen said. “There are physical teams in our conference and I think moving to having three players out and two players in will help us.’’
Van Hauen said McCarty and the other senior on the roster, Karli Atkinson, have provided “exceptional’’ leadership as the Bees have worked toward the start of the season.
“They’re helping bring everything together,’’ Van Hauen said. “We’re going to need contributions from our older players and from our newcomers and while our senior class is small, they’ve given us the type of leadership we need to make it work.’’
Three newcomers are positioned to help the Queen Bees fairly early in the season.
Mercedes Jackson, a 5-10 junior from Rock Island who played for Kankakee Community College, will add inside strength as will 6-1 freshman Joni Lafary of Gladstone, Illinois. Madi Epperson, a 5-6 guard from Athens, Illinois, has also emerged as an early contributor.