The 2012-2013 campaign was without a doubt a step forward for the Knox College women’s basketball team. With a 7-11 conference record, the team easily secured the best season in the era of Head Coach Emily Cline and in process made program history. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the season.
The most obvious improvement was in the win column. Knox swept three different teams (Beloit College, Illinois College and Lawrence University) and made school history with their 79-68 win over St. Norbert College back in January, their first ever triumph over the Green Knights. The team played with more confidence and would have finished over .500 in conference if not for a pair of heartbreaking losses to Grinnell and Lake Forest, the latter of which featured a buzzer-beating shot.
After a shaky start to the season, Knox improved significantly on their press defense. The key to the system was forcing turnovers, and the Prairie Fire did just that, forcing their opponents into over 30 turnovers a game for the second consecutive season.
More importantly, players proved to be more athletic and aware of their defensive responsibilities, allowing far fewer opportunities for opponents to get free points consistently on transition possessions. Whereas Knox surrendered over 95 points a game to opponents last season, the Prairie Fire improved that number to 85 per game this year.
While the season had more than its fair share of highlights, there were still some areas where Knox could have done better, shot selection and offensive efficiency being the most obvious.
Clearly, the point of the system is to put up as many shots as possible, and that means moving the ball quickly down the court and taking a lot of three-point shots. However, this does not mean the offense cannot be efficient in the process. Too many times this season Knox got impatient on offense and turned to taking shots from beyond even NBA range. While some of these looks went in, these were low percentage shots and too often led to long rebounds that sprung fast break opportunities for other teams.
Furthermore, the Prairie Fire turned the ball over 22.3 times a game themselves, and though this number was an improvement from last season, it was still too many for a team that needs as many possessions as possible. Ball security should be the number one focus for the team in the offseason.
Knox loses just two seniors this year, but they are big losses in Kristin McDonald and Sara Johnson. McDonald shared the bulk of the ball-handling duties with sophomore Becky Duffy this season, and her energy at the point of attack on defense will be missed. Johnson missed the early part of the season due to her off-campus studies, but it did not take long for her to get back into the swing when she returned to the lineup. The Prairie Fire are going to have a tough job replacing her energy and toughness inside.
That being said, the Prairie Fire have a strong set of returning players. Sophomore Jodi Marver fell just seven points away from the Midwest Conference scoring title, and her and fellow sophomore Jessica Howard finished one and two in the conference in three point shots made. Junior Chantal Heckman and freshman Alycia Webster each had strong campaigns, while sophomores Katie White and Brittney Price improved as the season went along.
The only thing that may worry fans of the Prairie Fire is the fact that only 12 girls remain on the roster. In the system, a team needs bodies, more importantly ones that can contribute. At this moment, the size of next year’s recruiting class has yet to be confirmed, but the Prairie Fire are going to need freshmen to provide some meaningful minutes if they are going to continue to push the pace for the entire season.
Overall a foundation has been set, the next step is building on it.