Oct. 25—JAMESTOWN — After a season in which the University of Jamestown women's basketball team made it to the NAIA National Tournament for the first time in six years, they head into this season with 10 of those players back.
"Especially our eight returners that had playing roles last year really set the tone for how the level of play and the quality of play in our open gyms and in our practices (should be), and it's allowed us to get a little bit further in terms of an identity and knowing who we are as a team," Jimmies head coach Thad Sankey said. "But at the same time, we're gonna have a little bit of a different feel, a little bit of a different flavor to our team this year than past years. So some of the early season is just figuring out what that balance is."
Those 10 returning players include seven of the team's top eight leading scorers including Kia Tower, who is returning for her fifth year. Tower said she wanted to come back and go on one last ride because of her love of the sport and the enjoyment she gets from spending time with her teammates. In order to have a big season, Tower said she needs to be flexible and able to adjust to what the opponent is showing her on a nightly basis.
"I think just play whatever role coach needs me to play," Tower said. "Whether that's defensive pieces, if it's passing on the offense, looking to score on the offense. Just being a role player wherever we need it because every team is going to play us differently on defense."
One of the newcomers to this year's team is freshman Halle Crockett, who finished her senior year at Northern Cass as a Miss Basketball finalist.
"We've had a lot of growth, us freshman right away it was definitely an adjustment for speed and competition," Crockett said. "But I think we've adjusted well over the past few weeks."
This campaign, Crockett said she wants to improve individually and as a team and to have success as a team. Crockett said her best skill on the floor is her ability to drive to the cup and score.
This year, the team is without Hannah DeMars, who graduated after leading the team with 17.9 points per game.
"If we're talking about offensive stats, a lot of it is playing great offense, taking great shots, balancing shot distribution and having great spacing," Sankey said. "I think if we do that inside of our motion offense, then a lot of the scoring aspect will take care of itself."
Last year, the Jimmies went 22-9 overall, with their season coming to an end in the second round of the national tournament against Carroll College.
"I think it made me more hungry for this year," Tower said. "It was an awesome experience to be able to get to the national tournament but definitely hungrier to get further this year and do more damage."
The Jimmies will get another crack at the Saints on Sunday, Dec. 17, when the teams compete in the Hoops in Hawaii Holiday Classic.
"We're excited for those matchups," Sankey said. "It should be fun. That should be a great trip."
Last year the Jimmies started the same five in all 31 games that they played with four of the returners a part of that starting lineup this season including Tower and Audrey Rodakowski. Rodakowski said her expectations for this season are to play with effort and pay attention to all of the tiny details.
This season, the Jimmies only played one preseason game as they took on Northern State University (Aberdeen, South Dakota) on Oct. 19. Sankey said his team spent time on Oct. 20 going over the film from the game. He said he liked his team's offensive balance and portions of his team's defense and rebounding.
"It was good to get into a competitive environment and be tested by a pretty good opponent, and just the excitement and feel of a game was really nice," Sankey said. "There were some things that we saw that we liked and we wanted to see and we're excited about and then of course, you always have your clean-up list."
The Jimmies open the season at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27, when they host Valley City State University.
"We sit here and we practice for two months before we actually see any actual court and actual game," Rodakowski said. "So, it's the start of something good this year and the start of something that we can keep building on what we did last year. So, I'm really excited to just get going."
This year, Sankey said he is looking for big seasons out of all of his returners. This season, the Jimmies are celebrating the 50th season in program history.
"I think that's awesome," Sankey said. "We've had generations of incredible women through our program and women who have played a big role but then also have gone on to do great things in their career and in the community and in their families and are at the point where they're giving back on our campus too and making a mark generationally that way as well. I think it's cool to recognize that."