MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois women's basketball kicks off the 2012-13 season with the first of two exhibition games this Friday (Nov. 2). The Fighting Leathernecks play host to Monmouth College, tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Western Hall.
year head coach JD Gravina thinks his squad is ready to face another team
following three weeks of preseason practice.
"I think they are pretty excited. They have been talking about game week here all week, and have been beating each other up the past couple weeks. It's exciting get the opportunity to compete against someone else now," said Gravina. "A lot of their families and friends will come out to watch for the first time. We will hopefully to be able to play everyone, or almost everyone, and get people a lot of minutes. I think they are real excited about that."
exhibition opener is followed on November 7th against MacMurray, then the
regular season officially opens with three games in five days. Western travels
to Iowa State (Nov. 11), is home against Clarke (Nov. 13), then travels to
Missouri (Nov. 15) to start the campaign. For a program with eight newcomers
joining eight returners, Gravina is placing a heavy emphasis on these two
exhibitions to get his team game-ready.
"We will definitely play it like a real game to win... part of the reason you play exhibition games is so you can get to the point that everyone is up enough to get significant minutes. I would like to play 10-12 and get everyone 15 minutes or more but we'll see how that plays out," stated Gravina. "I'm real encouraged. Our returners have improved more than I thought they would and our incoming players have picked up faster than I thought they would, so that's two real positives. We'll be pretty deep in the guard spot. A lot of it will depend on (the newcomers), it's one thing in practice as a freshman figuring it out, and it's another thing in game situations, especially when we face Division I competition. That may be a rude awaking for us as a coaching staff and those young players but that's what you have to do to have that learning curve."
by senior guard Saule Kontautaite, a
preseason Summit League selection, Western was picked to finish seventh in the
Summit League preseason poll. Senior Michele
Salvatori and junior Rebecca
Henricson join Kontautaite as returning starters.
2012-13 SEASON OUTLOOK
When head coach JD Gravina took over he wanted to rebuild the Leatherneck program. Year one saw a four-win increase, picked to finish last the team tied for sixth, Western advanced to the tournament semifinals thanks to an impressive first round win over Oral Roberts, but more importantly Gravina brought a high energy philosophy to the program.
"I think they (fans) kind of got a taste of it last year, but definitely expect a high energy level of basketball. A lot of transition game, that's something that is really important to us from an X's and O's standpoint. A lot of free-flowing offense. They should see players developing and making plays. I hope they see a real positive environment, even more so than last year. A lot of high fives, a lot of helping each other up, a lot of encouragement and I think that will make for a fun environment," said Gravina.
Now entering his second year, Gravina's challenge will be to see how fast his eight newcomers will gel with the eight returners (and five that have made starts).
"I think it will be nice to have returning starters. I have always seen a lot of progress in my program from year one to year two with the players," stated Gravina. "To have players that were already contributing at the starting level to be returning, they have all gotten better and we're really excited about the type of players that they can become."
new philosophy became evident last year when Western set a program record
scoring 2,050 points. Senior Saule Kontautaite is the top returning scorer
averaging 9.5 points per game. Arguably one of the best shooters in The Summit
League, she drained a program record 67 3-point field goals, shooting 33
percent from beyond the arc and 82.4 percent at the free throw line.
"Having Saule back will be nice. She was the Newcomer of the Year in the league, the good thing about her is everyone probably knows she's a shooter, but she really started to develop other parts of her game," said Gravina. "She moves really well without the ball. Saule is leading our team right now in assists in practice so I feel she will become more of a well-rounded threat for us."
Salvatori is another senior with plenty of playing experience, starting 20 of
her 31 games last year. Her 5.8 rebounds per game led all players and she hit
33 percent from beyond 3-point range.
"Michele will be really big for us. I hope that she can continue to play at the level that she has been at practice. She's incredibly versatile, very physical and she's improved a ton. Michele really has the chance to be an all-conference type of player if she continues to work at this level," said Gravina.
Joining Kontautaite and Salvatori in the backcourt is returning point guard Rebecca Henricson, who finished among the conference assist leaders at 2.5 per game. She started 29 times last year and was effective shooting the ball at a 47 percent clip from the field.
Forward Jackie Rieger started seven times while playing in every game. She scored 4.0 points and 3.5 rebounds as a junior. Rachel Evans made a start and played in 30 games. The junior center blocked 13 shots, which ranked second on the team. Sophomore Martyna Kudziela played in 14 games.
If Luke is unable to play immediately, she becomes the third Leatherneck waiting for 2013-14 season to suit up, joining juniors Tori Niemann (guard/Missouri transfer) and Marley Hall (forward/Illinois State transfer).
The Leathernecks face a busy start to the season, playing three games in five days - at Iowa State, home versus Clarke and at Missouri in that span. Western will play five at home of the 11 games prior to start of The Summit League.
Gravina will also focus on getting his team ready to play on the road as five of the first six Summit League games will be away from Western Hall, before the Leathernecks begin a stretch of 5-of-6 at home to even out the schedule.
The Summit League returns the postseason tournament to Sioux Falls on March 9-12.