Senior-laden Wildcats hope to return to MCC championship game this season
"Monday – it’s one word," IWU coach Steve Brooks said of the team’s catchphrase. "We want to play on Monday which will mean we made the (Mid-Central) Conference championship game. We’ve talked about it all summer. We want to play on Monday."
A conference championship game may appear to be a low benchmark for a team that was ranked No. 1 nationally for four weeks and ended the season with a Sweet 16 finish at the NAIA National Tournament. Senior guard Stephanie Culp does not think so.
"Last year we had a good record, but we didn’t win anything major," said Culp, who started for the first time last year and ranked 10th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage. "And that’s our goal this year – to be conference champions not just to be ranked No. 1."
IWU returns all five starters and a well-experienced senior class of Culp, Katy Hinkle, Katrina Spitler, Sarah McGill and two-time NAIA first-team All-American Liz Howerth.
"We’ve just formed an amazing bond over the years," Howerth said of the senior class. "We’ve just come together and been so blessed. We know how to encourage one another and call each other out at the same time and I think that’s just a really great thing."
After having a great start last season in which the Wildcats were ranked atop the national polls for four weeks, injuries plagued the team, especially leading scorer Howerth. But the struggles provided the team with learning opportunities to use this year.
"Our main focus this year is making sure that we come out not just in games but behind the scenes practicing, making sure every practice that we give it our all," Culp says. "I think that’s a big difference this year that we want to do as opposed to last year."
Howerth emphasized the team’s need to play with confidence in every situation.
"Something that we learned last year was how much we played off confidence," Howerth said. "As a team we learned how to pick each other up at times and what each others’ strengths and weaknesses are. I think we all know each other a little deeper and better on the floor and off the floor this year."
The knowledge of each other developed from last year and over the summer could be the key to season according to Brooks.
"Understanding who we are as a team more than one or two individuals is going to be a key to our success," Brooks said. "We have more depth, we’re physically stronger and learning to play to our strength is really going to be a big step in the right direction for us in terms of having the kind of season we would all like to have."
Originally published October 31, 2006