Women’s Basketball has high hopes for 2013-14 season

Grace’s women’s basketball team has high expectations for the upcoming 2013-14 season. Senior All-American guard Juaneice Jackson is joined by a cast of talented Lady Lancers as they hope to earn the program’s first berth into the NAIA National Championships.

Jackson was named NAIA Second Team All-American after a breakout campaign last season. She produced 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game while breaking the school’s record for most points in a season (665), leading the Lady Lancers to a 19-17 record.

With 1,244 career points entering her final campaign, Jackson needs 388 more points to become Grace’s all-time leading scorer.

This season, however, is more about team goals than individual accomplishments, according to head coach Scott Blum. Entering his 10th year as Grace’s coach, Blum believes this team has the ability to reach NAIA Nationals.

“In this year more than others, our goal is to make it to NAIA Nationals. We are to the point in our program where we expect to finish in the top part of the [Crossroads League],” Blum said. “When the season ended last year, I told the girls in the locker room that we have the opportunity this year to win conference and make it to nationals. Our mindset has been that way since that game.”

In order to accomplish their goal, the Lady Lancers will need to utilize a newfound strength of the team – its quickness. Blum noted that this year’s freshman class was recruited to add speed to the lineup. With six freshmen on the roster, several new faces will be counted on to contribute immediately.

Dariyan Morris and Darian Patton were teammates at Merrillville High School, helping the team to a 23-2 record last winter. Morris, a point guard, was The Times’ Indiana Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year. Chloe Pridgen, a 5-foot-11 post player, has the quickness and strength to defend any position on the court, according to Blum.

“We are adding quickness, foot speed and an ability to get to the basket. There will be more tenacity on the defensive end,” Blum said. “With our quickness, we’ll have that special piece that we’ve been missing – the ability to get after people in the fullcourt.”

The Lady Lancers also return several key players from last year’s squad, including starters Allison Kauffman and Gabby Bryant. Kauffman, a junior forward, posted averages of 12.3 ppg and 7.4 rpg to earn honorable mention status for NCCAA All-American. Bryant was producing 8.4 ppg on 38 percent shooting from the 3-point line before her season was cut short due to injury.

Also returning are junior Lindsey Schaefer and sophomores JoEllen Fickel, Sarah Feasby and Kelsey Sule, who each appeared in at least 25 games in 2012-13. The team’s depth has been crucial in Grace’s recent success, and Blum sees no reason why that will change this year.

“The new freshmen are going to blend in really well for us. I think we should be the deepest team in the conference,” Blum continued. “We lost two point guards last year [Bryant, Micah Pollard], but we still managed to win 19 games thanks to our depth.”

With All-American talent, increased speed, and a wealth of options at his fingertips, Blum is confident the 2013-14 Lady Lancers can be a special team. Grace is all but assured a national preseason ranking by the NAIA when they were picked to finish third in the Crossroads League coaches’ poll. The only question that remains to be answered is how the Lady Lancers will come together on the court.

“It takes hard work to buy in as a team on both ends of the court. If we play both sides of the ball to our potential, though, we can be a scary team,” Blum said. “As long as we honor the Lord with our attitudes and work hard for each other, we can reach our goals. When you have a strong, close-knit team, you can overcome a lot of things.”

Grace kicks off its season on Saturday at Holy Cross. The Lady Lancers return to the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center next week for a pair of games – on Oct. 29 against IU-South Bend and on Nov. 2 for their Homecoming game against Trinity Christian.

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