Women’s hoops will look like ‘a Bennett team’ as her recruits dominate roster during Year 3

Kathi Bennett

NIU women’s basketball coach Kathi Bennett

In the first two years of the Kathi Bennett era of NIU women’s basketball, the 300-win coach has given the Huskie faithful a taste of what she can do to a turn around a program.

With this year’s roster more full of her recruits, the Huskies have embraced Bennett’s signature defensive principles and style, and are ready to take another step toward turning Northern Illinois into a Mid-American Conference championship contender and beyond.

Fresh off inking a contract extension through 2017 in August, Bennett has the Huskies pointed in the right direction.

With a career record of 323-211 (.605), Bennett has rebuilt three programs over her career and has 15 winning seasons in 21 years as a head coach, including 10 postseason appearances and one national championship with Division III Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

In her first season (2010-11), Bennett guided NIU to a 13-17 (7-9 MAC) to improve the win total by 30 percent overall, 75 percent in conference, from the 2009-10 team that she inherited.

In her second season (2011-12), she pushed the Huskies to one win better (14-17, 6-10 MAC) than her first year and made a splash in the MAC Tournament with a youthful roster full of nine underclassmen as NIU made its first MAC quarterfinals appearance since 2007. Not only was it the program’s first trip to Cleveland since 2009, it was the first win in the MAC Tournament since 2007.

Showing the principles of Bennett’s famed “pack” defense, the 2011-12 Huskies ranked in the top four in the league in scoring defense, opponent field goal percentage, opponent three-point percentage and defensive rebounding. NIU also ranked 57th in the country in free throw percentage.

Shaakira Haywood

Shaakira Haywood

With eight returning players and over 60 percent of their points and rebounds back, the Huskies will welcome in four newcomers for the 2012-13 campaign.

A defensive-centered and fundamentally sound offensive 2012-13 team begins with a presence around the basket. The Huskies featured just two players over 6’0” tall last year – Natecia Augusta (So.) and Shaakira Haywood (Sr.) but neither averaged more than 12 minutes per game – both are back and improved along with sophomore Wisconsin-transfer Jada Buggs (6’0”) and freshmen McKenzie Hoelmenn (6’2”) and Nichole Wittman (6’0”).

Augusta showed flashes of offensive dominance in the post as a rookie (four games with eight-plus points) and has stepped up her performance in preseason practice. Haywood notched her first double-figure scoring game and had four or more rebounds five times.

The newcomers bring a plethora of talent.

Buggs, who can do a little of everything on the court, played only 15 games as a freshman at Wisconsin, and was an all-state selection in Indiana as a senior in high school. Hoelmenn comes in from Lakeville North High School in Minnesota as the No. 3-ranked prospect in the state by Max Preps and No. 87-ranked player in the country. She scored 496 points and pulled down 471 rebounds while shooting 49.3 percent in her prep career and led LNHS to three straight conference titles.

Also from Minnesota, Wittman comes in ranked as Max Preps’ No. 41-ranked player in the state and averaged double figures and over five rebounds per game in each of her last two seasons while leading Hutchinson High School to a 50-7 record.

Amanda Corral

Amanda Corral

At guard, NIU features four stout contributors.

Leading the way will be Amanda Corral, who is coming off an outstanding freshman season. The 5’6” Indiana native averaged 10 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, shot 41.8 percent from the field and an even better 45.1 percent on three-pointers, which led the MAC and ranked as the highest single season percentage in Huskie history.

Returning from knee surgery that held her out of the 2011-12 season is sophomore Danny Pulliam, who averaged 27.1 minutes and six points per game as a freshman. Also returning is Alicia Johnson – a junior that came on as a defensive impact player last year and averaged over three points and rebounds per game.

The newcomer to the group is defensive specialist Alexis Lindstrom. The Wisconsin native was named Wisconsin Sports Network’s top defender in 2011-12 as she averaged 4.6 steals per game and 4.9 rebounds per game, while also scoring over 17 points per game. She also averaged 17.6 points, 4.6 steals, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a junior and was an all-state selection in each of her final two seasons.

NIU has three different players in terms of style at wing.

Senior Satavia Taylor is a smooth operator that can score from anywhere on the court and averaged 7.5 points per game in her first season with the Huskies. Junior Ashley Sneed is an athletic slasher who scored her first two double figure games last year. Sophomore Jenna Thorp is a hard-working hustler who averaged nearly four points and four rebounds per game as a rookie.

NIU’s schedule this year features 11 home games, four games against 2011-12 NCAA Tournament teams and three games against 2011-12 conference champions. It begins with the 2012 Preseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament. NIU has only participated in the annual event one other time (1994) and will face the Iowa Hawkeyes in the season opener Friday, Nov. 9, in Iowa City.

Prior to regular season play, NIU will host Indiana Wesleyan in an exhibition tilt Monday, Nov. 5. The Huskies open at home Wednesday, Nov. 21, against South Dakota State.

For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.

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