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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 28, 2019 1:00 am

Purdue women focused on NCAA Tournament

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – The Purdue women's basketball program has missed the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons. The last time that happened, in 1987 and 1988, Boilermakers head coach Sharon Versyp was playing for the team.

Purdue finished last season 19-15 and just 8-10 in conference play, 10th place in the Big Ten. It was a rebuilding year, with a wide range of freshmen and sophomores playing big minutes, but now all of those players are a year older, a year more experienced and ready to return the Boilers to March Madness.

“There's a lot of hunger, a lot of talk about it,” Karissa McLaughlin, junior guard and Homestead graduate, said of the tournament. “It's definitely something that we talk about weekly, daily. ... It's something that's a standard for Purdue and unfortunately we haven't (upheld) that standard the last two years and it's unacceptable and I think we realize that.”

The 2019-20 Boilermakers officially opened their season Friday, taking the court at Mackey Arena for their first practice.

With everyone returning, this group is already comfortable with one another and the team has worked hard in the offseason to build a “family” culture.  

“We were really immature last year,” said Versyp, who is entering her 14th season leading the Boilers. “We had 11 freshmen and sophomores and really no seniors that were playing. This year, now we have a lot of experience, two of our seniors (Dominique Oden and Ae'Rianna Harris) have been playing quite a bit and now we've got that leadership, which is really, really important.”

Purdue has been working together all offseason and bonded during an August trip to Australia, in which the Boilermakers split four games against teams from Down Under. 

The trip gave everyone a chance to play big minutes against good competition. That includes 6-foot-4 forward Rickie Woltman, a five-star true freshman from St. Louis, who was making her first appearance in a Boilermaker uniform. 

The Boilermakers made an effort to stay off their phones and spend time together as a team while on the trip, making it a true bonding experience. Back stateside, the real preseason work begins as the Boilermakers try to turn familiarity off the court into wins on it.  

“It's just different, knowing that something special is about to happen this year and knowing that this our first day, we're about to finally get after it for three hours and just leave everything out there,” McLaughlin said. “Start the energy right, set the tone for the season and this is the first day to do it.”