The Northern Illinois women’s basketball team will begin its 2011-12 campaign at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, with an exhibition contest against Indiana Wesleyan inside the NIU Convocation Center.
The game will mark the beginning of Year Two for head coach Kathi Bennett, who last year led the Huskies to 30 percent more overall wins and 75 percent more conference wins than the 2009-10 season.
The 300 Career Win Club member is looking to focus on cleaning the glass on defense and minimizing turnovers against the Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats, members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
“Our first goal is to play as a team and to always play hard,” Bennett said. “We want to establish our identity, which is on the defensive end. We know we have a couple of areas to focus on. One is defensive rebounding, blocking out. That will be a season-long focus. The second is taking care of the basketball. Those are two things that translate into winning and losing. Those are the specific areas that we are looking at against Indiana Wesleyan.”
The latest edition of the Huskie roster that will embody Bennett’s “pack,” defense-first philosophy features just five upperclassmen and nine underclassmen.
The group of upperclassmen includes seniors forward Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township) and guard Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah) and juniors guard Brittney Callahan (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington North), forward Shaakira Haywood (Canton, Mich./Plymouth), and forward Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola).
Davis is NIU’s leading returning scorer (8.1/game) and rebounder (6.9/game). Shelton is the team’s top returning three-point threat (.358 percent) and distributor (78 assists). Callahan is coming off a season in which she set career marks for three-pointers made (28) and three-point percentage (.341). Haywood comes back as the Huskies’ top shot blocker (9). Taylor, a well-rounded wing player, will be eligible to play in the spring semester after transferring last year from Loyola Chicago.
The returning underclassmen group is comprised of guard Alicia Johnson (Chicago/Von Steuben), guard Danny Pulliam (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike), and guard Ashley Sneed (Harvey, Ill./Thornton). Johnson got her feet wet last season with 24 appearances and 124 total minutes, scoring 13 points. Pulliam played in all 30 games and made 24 starts as a freshman, ranking third on the team with 61 assists and 29 steals, the most of any returning player. Sneed shot 41 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line in her first season.
The fresh faces are forward Natecia Augusta (Peoria, Ill./Limestone), guard Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart), guard Janae Jackson (Detroit, Mich./Inkster), forward Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove), and forward Jenna Thorp (Hinckley, Ill./Hinckley-Big Rock), who is back healthy after redshirting her freshman season due to a knee injury.
“I am very excited to get going because were are so young; I want to see how everybody performs with the lights on,” Bennett said of her Huskies, who were picked to finish fourth last week in the Mid-American Conference West Division preseason poll. “We don’t have a whole lot of experience and in order to get it you have to be thrown into the fire. I want to see how are players respond and build from that.”
The Wildcats are the defending Mid-Central College Conference champions and reached the quarterfinals of the 2011 NAIA Tournament. After finishing the 2010-11 season with a 29-6 mark, IWU is off to a 2-0 start this year with wins already over Holy Cross College and Indiana-South Bend.
The Huskies officially tip off the 2011-12 season Sunday, Nov. 13, at Loyola Chicago with a 1 p.m. start. NIU’s first home game will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, against Western Illinois.
Single game tickets and season ticket packages for the 2011-12 season are available for purchase. The combined season ticket package for men’s and women’s basketball is $141, while the women’s package is $62 for the general public, $50 for faculty/staff and senior citizens (62 or older). Single game tickets start at $4 for general admission to youth (eighth-grade and younger) and senior citizens.
General admission for adults is $6 and reserved tickets in the lower bowl are $8. As with all NIU Athletics events, students with a valid student OneCard are admitted for free. For more information, call the NIU Ticket Office at (815) 752-6800.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.