Women off to fast start with new faces

Personnel is the key to any successful organization.

And an upgrade in personnel — specifically, six new faces on the women’s basketball team — has put Coach Curt Miller’s five-year plan right back on schedule after a rocky beginning.

Miller, in his third year at the helm, struggled to put the right team on the floor that was fit to play the type of game he wanted. The team’s record and deficiency on the interior reflected that, as the Falcons had gone 21-35 over the past two years.

But this year, the Falcons have translated successes in non-conference play into an impressive beginning to the conference slate. After going 7-4 in non-conference play for the second straight season, BG is now 1-1 in MAC play. But that 1-1 record says more this year than ever. BG lost to defending MAC West champion Ball State 72-70 last week — a game which the Falcons led throughout — and hammered out an impressive road win over Northern Illinois Saturday, 66-58.

“A lot of the rebounding and inside issues were a matter of our size and strength,” Miller said. “We preach going to the boards hard, but we were physically out-manned and out-strengthened our first couple years. Now, we have legitimate post depth and post size, and have answered questions the inside.”

The turnaround is a direct result of Miller’s new style of play, on both ends of the floor, which is directly related to the addition of six freshmen, three of whom — Ali Mann, Megan Thorburn and Liz Honegger — start and play significant minutes. Add into the mix Carin Horne, another offensively-talented newcomer who poured in 34 points in a loss to Ball State last week, and the Falcons are looking to make a splash this winter.

The differences are plain to see for Falcon fans. With the 5-11 Honegger, 6-1 Mann and 6-1 Thorburn, the Falcons have three legitimate inside-outside threats on the offensive end, and three tough, hard-nosed defenders on the other end of the floor. This season, the Falcons are out-rebounding opponents 41.4-39.1, after being on the short end of the same stick in Miller’s two previous seasons (39.8-34.7 in 2002-2003, 44.4-38.1 in 2001-2002).

Furthermore, the Falcons only out-rebounded their opponent four times a year ago, while this year they have been out-rebounded only thrice.

Assistant coach Brandi Poole knows a thing or two about rebounding: Poole, third on the all-time rebounding chart at the University of the South, works predominantly with BG’s post players.

“Rebounding was clearly a big weakness for us coming in, and size as well,” she said. “If we can’t rebound, we can’t run, is what we’ve said since we got here. A big part of fixing that was recruiting but after we have the players here, it’s been up to them. Those three freshmen had confidence in themselves, because they’re good players. They knew that we were recruiting them to come in and play right away and they were going to have to grow up fast. The biggest thing for them I think was the physicalness of the play at this level.”

On the offensive end, the steadfast component is the 3-point shot. The Falcons have seen more success behind the arc as teams have been forced to double team Mann, Honegger and Thorburn at times on the inside, opening up 3-point shots for senior sharp shooter Stefanie Wenzel and Mann, Honegger and Thorburn.

The statistics tell the story: last year, BG hoisted the second-most threes in the MAC, but were eighth in 3-point percentage. This season, they have taken the most threes in the conference and are still among the leaders in the conference at 35.9 percent.

“We still believe in the 3-point shot as an integral part of our offense,” Miller said. “We recruit that way, and we like to have 4-5 players on the court at one time who can shoot the three. The 3-point shot is an even better shot when you have an inside threat; now, we’re taking better threes. We’re getting easier threes now because teams have said ‘We dare you to beat us inside.’ Now, we can do that, and now they have to double down on us in the paint, which makes them easier threes.”

Even more intriguing this season is the depth Miller spoke of on the inside, as not only do the Falcons have three legitimate inside post players that start, but Miller also has four post players off the bench from which to choose: Juniors Kelly Kapferer, who is back this year after missing last year and Sakima Smith, freshman Amber Flynn; and sophomore Jill Lause. In addition to Mann, Honegger and Thorburn, that’s four more players over 6-feet coming off Miller’s bench.

“The depth has been a huge difference; in the past, when we have subbed, we have dropped off,” Miller said. “Now, we bring in Kelly Kapferer, at 6-2 and athletic, it’s such a better option than we have had before. She can start on a lot of teams … Those other girls are competing for our fourth post player, and that spot remains very important for us.”