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Saint Francis
vs. Reinhardt, Ga.
When: 11:15 a.m. today

Star guard, Cougars back with vengeance

Drake

– It is safe to proclaim that senior guard Kayla Drake and the Saint Francis women’s basketball team have completely recovered from last season’s fall.

It was this time last year when both were down and out: Drake, recovering from a broken ankle, and the Cougars, out of the NAIA postseason tournament with a 19-13 record.

That was then.

This is a different season; a new month of March; and certainly an appealing second chance for Drake and her USF team.

Not only did Drake’s fractured ankle and the Cougars’ broken hearts eventually mend, but they returned with a collective vengeance.

With Drake’s 15.7 scoring average leading the way, Saint Francis (30-3) brings a six-game winning streak, a No. 2 national ranking and a No. 1 seed into today’s 11:15 a.m. first-round NAIA tournament game against Reinhardt, Ga. (19-14) in Sioux City, Iowa.

“It feels really good,” says Drake, who is listed at 5-foot-4, but admits to 5-3. “Our team is a hard-working team. I like us because we don’t give up. You can tell how much fun we all have and how much each of us wants it. That’s hard to find with a lot of teams.”

But she checks her enthusiasm: “I don’t want to get too excited yet.”

Saint Francis is the third college stop for Drake, a native of Marion who shifted to Kokomo when she was in eighth grade.

Her first collegiate stop was Eastern Kentucky, where she was the 2008-09 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, with a 16 points-per-game average. But that lasted one season.

“I was just being a big baby,” Drake says. “Now that I think about it, I probably should have tried to stick it out. Things were going well. The school was fine. Basketball was going great. I was just homesick. Now that I think about it and I’m older, I think I could have and should have, but …”

But she went to IPFW, where she admits she was unhappy.

Because she found a home and friends in Fort Wayne, she stayed, and wound up with Saint Francis, where she finished as an All-Crossroads League first team guard.

Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews says Drake brings more to the team than her scoring. Despite being 5-4 (or 5-3), she’s a defensive nightmare.

“Her being able to play defense like she’s capable is what really made us a great defensive team,” Andrews said. “Jenelle’s (Wilson) a great defensive player; Meghan’s (Slusher) a good defensive player; Brooke’s (Ridley) a good defensive player. Now that Kayla got her quickness back – with Skylarr’s (Shurn) quickness – that just makes us really good defensively.”

Still, it’s the offense from Drake that the Reinhardt coaches surely noticed in their preparation for the Cougars.

In 33 games this year, she has missed double figures five times. In the second to last game of the regular season, Drake torched Marian for a career-high 34 points.

Intent on not allowing that to happen again, Marian held Drake to eight in the Crossroads tournament. But that enabled five of her teammates to score in double figures.

“I’ll do anything,” Drake says of her thirst for winning. “I’m probably as tough as they get.

“There are a lot of dirty players. I’ll be fair until I feel like somebody’s not being fair with me. Then I can play dirty, too. If you play fair with me, I’ll be fair with you. If someone gives that extra push, hit, shove, elbow, then that’s when it goes to a whole different level.

“They might think I’m small. Then again, they’re not too happy to have to play against me and guard me.”

stwarden@jg.net

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