WINONA LAKE – Grace College women’s basketball coach Scott Blum has a key theme for his team this year: “Run, run, run, run.”
After an 8-22 season last winter, Blum’s Lady Lancers hope to find rejuvenation in 2016-17 thanks to a faster style of play and a deeper bench.
After averaging under 60 points per game last year (59.9), Grace is changing its offensive mentality in what figures to be an exciting product on the hardwood.
Blum said the team’s new offense centers around wearing out the opposition. “We want to raise up our tempo to the next level. We want to get out and run, play fullcourt at both ends for all 40 minutes,” he said.
As a result, Grace wants to attack more freely and get to the free throw line more often — two facets Blum said go “hand in hand” with an up-tempo offense.
Offensively, Blum has slashed the playbook down to the bare essentials. His hope is that fewer set plays will lead to a more creative, free-flowing offense. “We want the ladies to read and react. We want them to create their own shot and create shots for their teammates,” he said.
A trio of veterans are primed for big offensive seasons for Grace. Haley Richardson is the team’s leading returning scorer at 9.5 points per game. The senior forward seemed to get more comfortable as last year progressed, even scoring in double figures for six straight games in January. Her “relentless energy level,” according to Blum, is key for Grace on the boards and at the defensive end.
Kelsie Peterson has developed into one of the team’s strongest leaders on and off the court. Her offense (8.4 ppg, 37 3-pointers) and defense (team-high 37 steals) will be a cornerstone for the team.
Darian Patton is the team’s vocal presence and playmaker. Her slash-and-kick ability resulted in 63 assists last year, over 20 assists more than anyone else on the team. Patton’s knack for facilitating the ball figures to be an important piece of Grace’s new offensive mindset.
Blum is also stressing increased efficiency from the Lady Lancers this year, initiating a new points system to track each player’s production throughout the year. Grace plans to turn the ball over less and rebound more to stress the little things that often win games.
Although he is a self-described “offensive-minded coach,” Blum has decided to stress defense more than ever this preseason. The squad has spent “probably twice as much time on defensive drills than we have in the past,” Blum estimated.
Grace peaked late in the year defensively, holding teams to 64 points or less in five of the last six games. Blum wants the Lady Lancers to reach that level much sooner this season.
“I’m excited for where we are defensively right now. Our defensive mentality is way ahead of where we were last year,” Blum said. “I’m excited to see how that pays off and how we’ll win games on the defensive end. If we can meet our goals defensively, we will win a lot of ball games.”
Because Grace wants to outrun its opposition, the Lady Lancers will rely on a deep bench to maintain their stamina.
Chloe Pridgen, Pam Miller and Hannah Adams are experienced forwards who possess unique abilities to score and defend. Added to the frontcourt mix are two freshmen: 6-foot Rachel Montgomery and 5-11 Brooke Treadway.
At the guard position, sophomores Brooke Sugg and Lauren Godfrey return as sharp-shooting ballhandlers. All-State freshman Vironnica Drake also figures to play a significant role in the guard rotation thanks to her ability to create shots for others and put pressure on the other team’s defense.
Grace’s other guards, including senior Catherine Weaver and freshmen Bobbi Douglas, Broghan Gamble and Myriah Hoffman, give Blum a wealth of options to use on the wing.
After struggling to a losing record last year, Blum wants the Lady Lancers to regain confidence in their abilities. As evidence, he pointed to a late season win over Marian, a team that went on to win the NAIA National Championship.
“I have a lot of confidence in what we can do on the floor. We have as much talent as any team in the country. We have the right players, we just need a consistent offensive and defensive effort,” he added.
A necessity, Blum said, is to strive for what he called “perfect effort” at every practice and every game; to be relentless at both ends of the court and dedicate complete effort to each task.
“From the first day until now, this has been the best preseason on the court that we’ve ever had. It’s exciting to see where we are. Our goal is to have perfect effort throughout the season and only aim to please the Lord through our play. If the ladies play for the Lord and are confident in themselves and in their teammates, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
The Lady Lancers start their season on Oct. 22 at home against Holy Cross.