Lady Jacks aim for national tourney

Kirk Danielson

Kirk Danielson

With the season kickoff this weekend, the 2006-2007 Jackrabbits look to continue their winning ways after posting a record of 19-9 last year.

This year, the Jacks have seven returning players and have added six freshmen to the lineup.

“The team has more depth and is a bit stronger and more athletic than in the past,” said Head Coach Aaron Johnston.

That strength may be needed as the team faces their most difficult schedule to date.

The Jackrabbits return last year’s top scorer and rebounder, senior forward Megan Vogel. Last year, Vogel averaged 16.1 points a game and added 6.4 rebounds, while working her way to the first team All-Independent Team. Junior Andrea Verdegan joins her at point guard. Verdegan started primarily at off-guard last season, but will be looked upon to lead the offensive attack this season.

The Jacks also return last year’s blocked shots leader, junior center Courtney Grimsrud, and sophomore forward Jennifer Warkenthien.

Adding to the returning team is a large and talented class of first-year players.

“This year’s team does have six freshman, and they’re going to be playing big roles with us this year,” Johnston said.

The Jacks start their season this Saturday against Kent State, in Kent, Ohio. Then, on Monday night, they will be matched against Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The team plays its home opener next Friday night at Frost Arena against the No.-22 ranked University of Southern California Trojans.

Other Division-I teams to look for at home this season are Southern Illinois, Colorado and Women’s National Invitation Tournament runner-up Marquette.

Last season, the Jacks went 9-1 at home. This season the team will play 13 games at home.

“Our home schedule is really good and exciting, but it’s also really tough,” Johnston said. “We’re looking forward to playing those challenging teams in front of our home crowd. One of the things we’re trying to do with our team is expose them to great competition, not only in the Midwest, but on (the) national level.”

The Jackrabbits gained national exposure last year by leading all collegiate women’s basketball teams with a 3.73 GPA. Those good grades may be the key to a post-season berth this year.

“One of our goals is always to play in the WNIT,” Johnston said. “Academically, we want to be one of the top 15 teams in the nation as far as team GPA, and last year we were first. That gets us a really good look to playing in the WNIT. That’s a tangible goal.”

The team is ineligible for the NCAA post-season tournament this year, so the WNIT is their postseason.

With this year’s schedule, the Jacks may encounter some match-up problems.

“Size-wise, the perimeter players should stack up just fine with all the teams we play. We’ll probably be undersized against some of the teams we play with our post players,” said Johnston.

The reason why the team may be undersized is due to Johnston’s scheme.

“We want different things from our post players. We want them to be able to shoot the three and run the floor well. We don’t play basketball with a true center in mind. It doesn’t bother me if we are undersized. Our style of play helps to balance that out. Our recruiting helps to reflect that game plan.

“We want to be considered one of the very good programs, and that’s something that the team is excited about,” he said.

Last season, the Jacks struggled with consistency. This year, Johnston looks for his talented team to be more consistent.

“Last year, we had a very good team, but what we didn’t have was a great deal of consistency. We played some great halves of basketball, but we didn’t always have a great game of basketball. This year’s team really needs to learn how to be consistent and put our best foot forward every single game. I think we have a chance at having a really great year,” he said.

“We’re going to work harder than the people around us.”

With a solid mix of experience and youth, the Jackrabbit women’s basketball team expects more consistent play and a chance to reach the WNIT.

#1.884016:3723722822.jpg:sdsuvsbemidji02.jpg:Megan Vogel, 32, looks for an open teammate as she drives around Melissa Roberts, 15, of Bemidji State during their exhibition game on Oct. 31. :