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Women’s hoops coach Bennett: ‘More energy’

October 3, 2013
Kathi Bennett

Kathi Bennett

Fourth-year head coach Kathi Bennett and the Northern Illinois women’s basketball program will take to the court today for their first practice of the 2013-14 campaign.

On the makeup of this season’s schedule …

I think it’s a tough schedule, we’ll start out at Green Bay and we’ll find out a lot about ourselves. They’re a perennial NCAA (Tournament) team and have become one of the best mid-majors in the country, so that will be a great experience for us. Then we’ll play at Wisconsin, which will be fun too. We’ll also play teams from state of Illinois (Bradley, Illinois State, Illinois-Chicago). As in-state teams, we have that rivalry and we want to win that battle, so it’s a very competitive schedule. We get a chance to travel a little bit over Thanksgiving and see a different part of the country (New Mexico) and that should get us ready for the conference season, which I think this year has parody. You have your perennial favorite, Central Michigan, and it returns everyone. They made it to the NCAA (Tournament) and just had an unbelievable RPI (last season). They play a lot of tough schools and have a phenomenal player in Crystal Bradford so I’m just looking forward to the season. I think it’s going to be an exciting one.

On the 50-50 split of returners and newcomers …

We have a lot of new players that we need to contribute right away, we need to get them ready. Fortunately the NCAA changed the rule this summer where we had a little bit of contact with our newcomers (this summer). This fall we’ve had a great preseason, so with our mix, I feel like the chemistry is the best it’s been because of the leadership of seniors Alicia Johnson and Ashley Sneed. They’ve really brought everybody together. Jenna (Thorp), even though she got hurt her freshman year’s, been with me now for four years and I look at her as a leader. Amanda Corral as well, she’s played the most amount of minutes, so that core group is going to have to lead our young ones. Some freshmen that we need to contribute right away will be Jazmine Harris and Ally Lehman. We need to get some minutes from our junior college transfer Alex Dumoulin. Natecia Augusta, who finished strong last season, will be a junior and we’ll be looking for her to contribute major minutes and help us, especially offensively. We need some people to come out and score, so that mixture of returners with newcomers definitely balances and we’re going to need contributions from all of them.

Alicia Johnson

Alicia Johnson

On this year’s senior class …

Alicia has great passion. She’s got an energetic personality and I’ve never seen a player be so relentless between the lines, not only with herself, but with her teammates – encouraging and uplifting them. She’s always a vocal leader and you always hear her voice and it’s a positive voice and that’s something a team has to have. She brings energy, she gives energy and keeps us consistent in that area.

Ashley’s a player that kind of leads by example, has a quiet strength and I believe she’s someone that has invested a great deal of time off the court with all our newcomers. She has gained their respect by how hard she works and by investing in each and every one of our newcomers and taking the time to get to know them and that’s a great combination. They definitely work well together. They’ve been through a lot and they want to have a say in how this program gets turned around and I believe they want to make a change in this program. We have struggled a little bit and they want to put their handprint on it and say we’re a part of the season where it all turned around and I feel that from them.

On the contributions of Amanda Corral …

She is a phenomenal athlete and she’s made herself a phenomenal basketball player. This year, I’m really excited because we can put her in a position to succeed. We’ve had injuries at the point guard spot and that’s not her natural position but she played it for us. This year we have a chance to really set her up off the move. She led us in rebounding last year, even though her stature might be a little smaller, but she’s one of the best rebounding guards I’ve seen and we can let her loose. She doesn’t have to worry about getting back because we have some point guards we can rotate. I’m excited to see her in a position that’s her natural position and see what she can bring because she’s worked very hard.

More on the newcomers …

The one that immediately comes to mind is junior college transfer in Alex Dumoulin. We needed help inside this year. We had very limited numbers in our post play last year and she brings an energy and a bounce. Alex gets up and down the floor and that’s something we really need so she’s going to bring that this season. Jazmine Harris, another incoming freshman, is ultra talented. She just has to learn how to play the game a little bit, not turn it on and off. She needs to learn to be consistent with her energy and her effort. Amber Gray’s another player that we brought in that can help us inside as well.

From a guard standpoint, Ally Lehman, from Indiana, was runnerup Miss basketball in Indiana last season which is really a high honor. She’s done a great job and she is a very complete player. She’ll help us in that area. Lacia Gorman transferred from Wisconsin last season and she can play the point guard spot, Ally can play the point guard spot and we get Danny Pulliam back, who’s sat the last two years from a knee injury at the point guard spot. It’s been the past two years we’ve gone without a true point guard and now we have three. Alexis (Lindstrom) can be thrown in there too, so as a head coach I feel so much better because we have depth at that position.

Amanda Corral

Amanda Corral

On the NCAA allowing summer workouts …

The summer is more about building chemistry and being able to have some time with them face-to-face in the gym even if you’re not going crazy with Xs and Os. It’s an opportunity to get to know the players, their strengths and how they need to be coached – How do they respond, what do we need to do to get the best out of them, then build team chemistry and get a head start on some of the main philosophies and some of the things we want to be known for as a team. I think the summer gives a great opportunity for that.

On the culture of the team …

It’s the most vocal, supportive for each other team since I’ve been here and what I mean by that is they give positive energy. There’s constant chatter it’s the loudest gym I’ve had since I’ve been here. They definitely pull for each other and they care a great deal and there’s just more energy because I think they like each other. I think you can tell that. I know we haven’t had too much adversity to this point but they seem to really like each other.

On what drives this team …

Like I’ve mentioned before with the seniors, I think I’ve had a chance to get some of my recruits in here too and I think that the (the seniors are) definitely the push to change whats happened with NIU women’s basketball – our program. They want to be the ones and they want to make a change and they want to win. They want to get to an NCAA Tournament, they want to win a MAC championship. They’re driven team wise more so than any group, not individually, but as a team to do something that hasn’t been done here in a while and I feel that from them.

Team goals this season …

We definitely want to stay healthy. We want to finish the season with our three point guards in tact. Aside from that, I feel that we want get better every day, be ultra competitive in the MAC. We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year and we want to be in the mix for a MAC championship. Those are things I think that are very realistic and we’re going to go for.

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