Experience isn’t an issue anymore for the St. Ambrose University women’s basketball team, but the Fighting Bees still expect to have a new look this season.
Coach Krista Van Hauen’s 12th team is working to bring a more balanced approach to its game as it works toward Saturday’s 6 p.m. season opener against Mount Mercy at Lee Lohman Arena.
“All of the freshmen and sophomores who we’ve had on the court the past couple of years, they’re juniors and seniors now and we want that experience to benefit the entire team,’’ Van Hauen said.
In returning All-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference center Madeline Prestegaard, a 6-foot-3 senior, and junior forwards Jaynee Prestegaard and Kylie Wroblewski, St. Ambrose has one of strongest frontcourts in its conference.
“We know that, but so does everybody else and we expect them to see a lot of defensive attention,’’ Van Hauen said. “We want and need our guards to step up and complement what our frontcourt players bring to the floor. We will only benefit from more balance.’’
Van Hauen wants a backcourt that will be equally effective knocking down shots from the perimeter and driving to the basket, spreading defenses and providing more quality looks inside and out.
Senior guard Maddy Cash and junior Anna Plumer join Madeline Prestegaard, Jaynee Prestegaard and Wroblewski in starting more than half of the games they played during a 12-8 season a year ago.
Wroblewski, limited to nine games last season because of a broken bone in a finger, is the Fighting Bees’ top returning scorer at 17 points per game, while Madeline Prestegaard and Jaynee Prestegaard were the Bees’ only other double-digit scorers at 11.8 and 10.1 points per game, respectively.
Along with Cash and Plumer, all five factor into the mix for St. Ambrose.
“The experience we have and what we’ve learned the past couple of years, it’s only going to help us compete,’’ said Cash, one of four seniors on the roster.
“We’re changing some things in our offense, but we’ve played together before so we’re used to being out there together. We’re one of the more veteran teams in the CCAC now and that’s going to make a difference.’’
Junior Abby Lundquist is sliding into the point guard role this season for St. Ambrose, which also expects to benefit from the experience of guard Shayne Smith, a senior transfer from Monmouth College where last season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Smith did average 9.3 points for the Scots on a 21-7 team two years ago and is providing the Fighting Bees with additional backcourt experience, capable of playing multiple spots.
“She’s been one of the hardest working players we’ve had,’’ Van Hauen said of Smith. “I think she is grateful for the opportunity to be back on the court as part of a team again.’’
Van Hauen said Lundquist, who made six starts for the Bees a year ago after transferring from Daemen College, is adjusting well to her role at the point.
Lundquist believes St. Ambrose is positioned to compete in the CCAC.
“It’s a tough conference, competitive, and I feel like we have the experience to compete,’’ Lundquist said. “This team is coming together well, working together and I feel like we have all the pieces in place to do good things.’’
St. Ambrose will get a quick taste of CCAC play, hosting defending conference tourney champion Olivet Nazarene in a Nov. 2 league opener at Lee Lohman Arena.
“We’re all looking forward to what we can accomplish this season,’’ Cash said. “Last year was such a different year with everything. We’re looking forward to see what we can do.’’
The early conference game, one of six the Bees will play in November, is being played that early to allow the Fighting Bees to travel to the San Antonio area for games against Our Lady of the Lake and Texas Lutheran during the third week of December.
St. Ambrose will also host a late December round robin event that will include Talladega and Marian, two teams that were among ranked among the nation’s elite last season and are expected to be there again when the NAIA preseason poll is released later this week.
All were scheduled with an eye on helping the Fighting Bees’ strength of schedule as the NAIA shifts to a 64-team postseason tournament this year.
“Our conference schedule sets up where we play most of the expected top teams in the CCAC later in the season, so we needed some challenges before January to help with our analytics,’’ Van Hauen said. “I feel like with the experience we have, those games will be good challenges for us. I like the possibilities.’’