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The Journal Gazette

  • File Saint Francis' Kara Gerka, grabbing a rebound last season, was an All-Crossroads League player after averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds as a sophomore.

Thursday, November 09, 2017 1:00 am

Rebuilding Cougars ahead of schedule

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette


Oct. 28: vs. UM-Dearborn, at Lawrence Tech, 6 p.m.

Oct. 29: at Lawrence Tech, 4 p.m.

Nov. 3: Aquinas, 6 p.m.

Nov. 4: Cornerstone, 1 p.m.

Nov. 5: at Purdue, 2 p.m. (exhibition)

Nov. 11: IU-Kokomo, 1 p.m.

Nov. 13: Siena Heights, 7 p.m.

Nov. 21: at Spring Arbor, 7 p.m.

Nov. 25: at Indiana Tech, 3 p.m.

Nov. 29: Marian, 7 p.m.

Dec. 2: Goshen, 1 p.m.

Dec. 6: at Taylor, 7 p.m.

Dec. 16: at Reinhardt, 1 p.m.

Dec. 18: at Webber International, 5:30 p.m.

Dec. 20: at Southeastern, 2 p.m.

Dec. 23: IU-East, noon

Dec. 30: Madonna, 1 p.m.

Jan. 3: at Grace, 6 p.m.

Jan. 6: at Mount Vernon Nazarene, 1 p.m.

Jan. 10: Huntington, 7 p.m.

Jan. 13: at Indiana Wesleyan, 1 p.m.

Jan. 17: Spring Arbor, 7 p.m.

Jan. 20: Bethel, 1 p.m.

Jan. 24: at Marian, 7 p.m.

Jan. 27: Mount Vernon Nazarene, 1 p.m.

Jan. 31: Taylor, 7 p.m.

Feb. 3: at Goshen, 1 p.m.

Feb. 7: at Huntington, 7 p.m.

Feb. 10: Indiana Wesleyan, 1 p.m.

Feb. 14: Grace, 6 p.m.

Feb. 17: at Bethel, 1 p.m.

The Saint Francis women had a pair of five-game losing streaks last year but somehow figured out things late in the season and played tough at Marian, which went on to win a second straight NAIA Division II national title, and lost 59-57 in the finals of the Crossroads League Tournament. 

In the end, a young Cougars team finished ahead of schedule in the rebuilding process.

“We had good players, and they learned how to adjust to some of the stuff we were seeing out on the floor, and then this really cool thing happened with our team chemistry, and we became a very hard team to beat,” third-year Saint Francis coach Jason Ridge said. “We are trying to do that again this year.

“We did not have to battle expectations. We knew we were going to have a young team, and we just tried to go out there and get better every day. We had highs and lows and took our lumps, but we kept getting better every time we went out. By the time the year was over, we were a really good basketball team.”

On paper, preseason No. 21 Saint Francis (18-16, 11-7 CL) is even younger than last year's novice squad, but with the experienced gleaned from a run in 2016-17 that ended with a loss in a NAIA D-II tournament opener, the Cougars could be even better this season.

“The challenge for this year is to realize this year is not last year, and that we still have to grow every time we go out and keep getting better,” Ridge said. “Every year is a unique experience. Expectations going into this year are going to be much higher than they were going into last year, and we probably have a younger roster this year than what we had last year.

“A lot of our sophomores that are returning got a lot of important minutes in really important games in really tough environments. To have sophomores back who are in that position is a great spot to be in.”

However, the Cougars had to deal with some disappointment before things even started.

Second-leading scorer Lauren McBryar, a sophomore, was lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL in the last open gym before practices began in October and took a medical redshirt. 

But there is still plenty of talent and depth, led by Saint Francis' sophomore class, including All-Crossroads League player Kara Gerka (15.1 points, 7 rebounds) and point guard Savannah Buck (5.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists).

Saint Francis, which has only one senior, is also adding a dozen freshmen to the roster.

“Figuring out how we are going to get new players into new roles and jell together as a team is going to be really important to us,” Ridge said. “We have a lot of good pieces in a lot of places.”

Believe it or not, one of the Cougars' biggest advantages is playing in the Crossroads League with Marian, as well as the rest of the conference.

“Every time we play Marian, we find a new thing that we have to get better at,” Ridge said. “The thing about the Crossroads League is that it isn't just about Marian. You have to come out and play against everyone. You get so game-hardened, and you see so many different styles.

“One of the reasons why the Crossroads League has had four of the last five national champions (Saint Francis, Indiana Wesleyan, and Marian twice) is because the conference regular season prepares so much for anything you could possibly see in the national tournament.”