At practice Tuesday night, heading into Wednesday’s contest against Ball State, Eastern Michigan’s women’s basketball coach AnnMarie Gilbert had her 13-3 team running laps up and down the court.
Moments before, a couple of players had missed some defensive assignments while practicing post defense, and the team certainly paid the price.
“We run laps,” Gilbert said. “We even run on the day of a game. The team that makes the fewest mistakes at this time of the year is usually the team that wins the game. We throw the running in there to challenge them to be a little more urgent.
“If you know there’s a consequence with missing an assignment, you may focus and do what you’re supposed to do. The game is won or lost before it’s played, and we attribute our toughness in practice to our record.”
Tavelyn James, the Mid-American Conference leader and team leader in points per game (21.4), knows running has a purpose.
“It’s just to show us discipline,” she said. “To know that, even though we are winning, that we still need to do the things we are supposed to do. You know, don’t slack because we’re winning. She’s a good coach and she’s taught us to have high standards and we should always meet our standards.”
Toughness in practice and on game day has become a staple for the team. In the beginning of the season, Gilbert wasn’t sure what she would get from her team or what the team’s identity would become.
“This is a team that you can always expect to see gritty defense and rebounding,” Gilbert said. “It’s a team where those two words are synonymous with Eastern Michigan women’s basketball.”
The defense and rebounding, along with James’ scoring, the influx of newcomers and freshman, has tied this year’s Eagles with the best 16-game start in school history.
“That’s significant for us because this is a very young basketball team with so much growing yet to do,” Gilbert said. “But they have achieved beyond where we expected them to be. They’re a year ahead of schedule. I’m just really proud of their efforts.”
“It just feels good to know we’ve accomplished something that hasn’t been accomplished in a long time,” said James
One such newcomer making a contribution is Chenise Miller. The freshman forward is third in the MAC in field goal percentage (.529) and is 10th in rebounding (6.6) to go along with her 7.6 points.
“She’s a kid who could easily start,” Gilbert said. “She could start for any team in the MAC. She’s accepted her role and is growing in her role. She’s a kid that could average a double-double.”
James knows what Miller adds to the team.
“She brings a lot of hustle, hard work and rebounding,” she said. “I can count on her if I know we need a rebound. She’s doing well to be a freshman. Even though she makes mistakes, she understands the mistakes she’s made and plays through them.”
Miller is happy with her role early in her college career and knows what’s expected of her when her name is called.
“I think sometimes I could step up more, but I think on this team my role is to bring some scoring into the post and play good defense on the other team’s post.”
James tries to impart some wisdom upon Miller when she can.
“Just making sure she knows when it’s a good shot, when it’s a bad shot, when she needs to kick it back out to a guard and when she needs to put it up.”
The Eagles’ next game comes at Bowling Green in Ohio on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.