Women's basketball wins home opener

Lucas Snider

For the USI women’s basketball team, the reality of losing eight seniors and having to find a way to replace 75.5 percent of their total points from last year may sound like a daunting task to some. But to head coach Rick Stein and his players, a young team does not equate to a team that is projected to finish seventh in the Great Lake Valley Conference East this year.


“We took it as a slap in the face a little bit, but I don’t think this group of girls needed a pre-season seventh place projected finish to motivate them,” Stein said.

In their home and season opener Saturday, several players saw significant playing time in their 76-62 win against Saginaw Valley State. Stein said it was a testament to the number of ways each player can contribute.

“When you have a lot of competition in practice and they’re going head-to-head, they’re going to work hard. And everybody wants to be a factor and find a way to help the team,” Stein said. “I think this has the ability to be a pretty deep team – not just early but the whole year long.”

Senior guards Cootie Leeberg and Kristin Raker combined for 28 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday and are expected to take charge of a team that has 11 underclassmen.

“Our bench is deep, even with all of the new faces this year,” Raker said. “So, it’s definitely an advantage to have the assurance of having rested players on the court at all times and giving the other team several different looks.”

“It was great to get the first win out of the way,” Leeberg said. “We learned what we needed to work on defensively and despite where they picked us to finish, we just need to play the game that made us successful last year.”

The transition into collegiate basketball can be a tough one to adjust to for freshman. The game is much faster now. 

“The competitive side has really stepped up. Everything is up for grabs and nothing is secure. We’re all competing for the same thing and have the same goal,” freshman forward Brooke Valentine said.

Valentine and freshman forward Mary O’Keefe are two newcomers amonglu many that come from not only successful individual high school careers but also from successful teams. Four of the seven freshman won state championships in high school. Stein said anecdote was just as important as their individual stats.

“Our recruiting class has come in and bust their tails off because we need them,” Stein said. “We can’t wait two years for them to figure it out.”

“The speed of the game is obviously so much quicker now than in high school,” O’Keefe said. “It was a reality check but it’s exciting at the same time because you’re shown exactly what you need to get better at in practice each game we play.”