With a young nucleus and some new faces, Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball coach AnnMarie Gilbert didn’t quite know what she would get from her 2009-10 squad.
“Well we’re definitely ahead of schedule,” she said. “We’ve got a very young team, a lot of freshman and first years. I never thought we’d be where we are right now. I’m very pleased that we’re there. They’re playing good basketball.”
After being picked to finish fifth in the Mid-American Conference West division, the team’s record stood at 10-2 heading into conference play going into Wednesday’s game at the Convocation Center against Central Michigan. The 10 victories marked only the second time in school history the team has won 10 non-conference games.
“I thought we would be very competitive,” Gilbert said. “I’m just very proud of their effort offensively and defensively, and especially on the boards.”
The team is rolling coming into MAC play and the stats show EMU’s start is no fluke. It lead the conference in numerous statistical categories like scoring offense (76.5 ppg), scoring defense (58.3), steals (12.75) and assist-to-turnover ratio (0.92).
The team is also making strides in the classroom, as 11 of the 15 members have a 3.0 GPA or better.
Contributions are being made all over the court, some of which are surprises.
Take Raina Spencer. A Fordham University transfer, the redshirt sophomore guard came off the bench in the team’s contest against Chicago State on Dec. 21 and scored 17 points. The performance was good enough to win her the MAC West division player of the week award.
Rebounding and blocking shots has also been a strength for the team, and much of that can be pointed to the stellar play of junior-college transfer Kristin Thomas. The junior forward is third in the MAC in rebounding (8.5 pg) and second in blocked shots (1.5 pg).
“She’s one of the hardest working kids that we have,” Gilbert said, “That’s why we recruited her; to defend and to rebound, and she’s been steady for us in both those areas.”
Thomas credits her rebounding prowess to pure desire.
“I guess just wanting it,” she said. “Wanting the rebound, going after it. It’s just heart really. You’ve got to want it.”
One area where the team is getting plenty of unsurprising production is at the guard position. Tavelyn James and Cassie Schrock start for the Eagles, and the team’s success begins with them. James leads the MAC in scoring (21 ppg) and Schrock leads the MAC in assists (7.33).
“They are the heart and soul of our team,” Gilbert said. “Cassie Schrock is really our emotional leader. She is our team captain, she is our floor leader. She’s really an extension of the coaches.”
Not a natural point guard, Schrock has been handling the duties well.
“My first and second year here I never really was a point guard,” she said. “It’s just a difficult position. As coach Gilbert told me last night, you’re the quarterback of the team. I’m still learning to be a better point guard.”
Even with the success of Schrock and James, Gilbert made it a point to reiterate the collective effort of the team.
“This nucleus of freshman and newcomers, along with Cassie and Tavelyn and our supporting class, that’s the reason,” she said of the team’s success.
“I always tell them the harder you work the luckier you get. I just believe you need a little luck come conference time, and I think luck is on our side right now.”