A solid group of leaders will provide plenty of optimism for UND’s women’s basketball team led by second-year head coach Travis Brewster. Four seniors go into their final season of eligibility ready to usher UND back to the postseason in their second season in the Big Sky Conference.
All four seniors will make up the captains for North Dakota and each brings a different style of leadership both on and off the court. Madi Buck--an All-Big Sky honorable mention last season--paced the team in scoring (10.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg). She was the team’s leading scorer on 10 different occasions and came through in big games, scoring 18 points with six boards and five blocks in the upset win over eventual WNIT runner-up Utah.
“Madi is a competitor. She’s got that will about her to try to take over a game,” Brewster said. “We’ve worked with her to be a little more patient in letting the game come to her. She’ll help us on the wing this season as well.”
She’ll get scoring help from Megan Lauck and Allyssa Wall, both of whom have a chance along with Buck to surpass 1,000 career points in their final seasons. Lauck showed the ability to score in bunches, pouring in a career-best 36 in the season finale last year. Not only a threat from deep, Lauck made good on 83.5 percent of her free throws, ranking second in the Big Sky in that category.
“Megan has done a good job in crashing the boards and she’s working on defensively keeping her player in front of her,” Brewster said. “She’s sneaky athletic and she’s got some fire in her. We’re going to try to play her at the two and keep her confidence. She’s more of a philosophical leader for our group.”
Wall, meanwhile, looks to return to form after an injury-plagued junior season that saw her play more than 10 minutes in a game just eight times all year. UND was 7-1 in those contests, so having her on the floor will be key to its success.
“Last year she fought injuries all year and just couldn’t shake it,” Brewster said. “It’ll be nice to have her on the floor and contributing. Her senior leadership is big and she adds confidence to our group.”
Katie Houdek knows plenty about injuries after dealing with them throughout her career. She fought through knee injuries last year and in this offseason but is determined to contribute in any way possible.
“She’s playing on heart right now after battling injuries her whole career,” Brewster said. “We have to be smart with her in practice so we can keep her on the floor. She’s the heart of the team. She leads by example and it has been big for us.”
Frontcourt mate Emily Evers performed admirably with increased minutes due to multiple injuries down low (Wall, Houdek). Evers started 21 contests last year, averaging 8.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Her .527 field goal percentage led the team and her 50 blocked shots also topped the squad with both totals ranking third in the league. Evers battled injuries down the stretch and having Wall and Evers both healthy will be a big bonus and will allow UND to play them both on the floor at the same time to create match up problems.
“Emily is very athletic for her size and is deceptive in how she can run the floor. Her passing ability out of the post is good as well,” Brewster said.
Guard Siri Burck is the type of player that coach Brewster labels as the “glue” for his team. Her ability to play virtually any spot on the floor makes her invaluable in an offense that is built around flexibility to play multiple spots. Burck’s contributions often won’t show up in the boxscore, but she has the ability to score when needed, as witnessed by a nine-point effort in the team’s first-ever Big Sky road win at Weber State last year.
“Siri can not only play anywhere, she knows exactly what to do in each of those spots,” Brewster said. “She’s an intelligent player and she’s improved her shot in the offseason.”
Mia Loyd enjoyed a solid rookie season, coming on down the stretch to become one of the key contributors off the bench. She played in all 29 games and posted five double-figure scoring games and became more aggressive on the boards, collecting six or more rebounds nine times.
“Mia came on strong towards the end of the year. She’s a very fiery competitor that gets after it,” Brewster said. “She plays the game at a high level. There are times that it will be advantageous and times we’ll have to get her to slow down a bit. She’s become a force on the boards.”
Josie Dillon showcased her shooting prowess in her limited minutes as a freshman. With the ability to score in bunches, Dillon averaged just 7.4 minutes but scored nearly three points per game and notched at least nine points three different times.
“We know Josie can score, but I challenged her to rebound and improve on defense and she’s worked hard at it,” Brewster said. “If she improves her rebounding she could see her role increase but if we need a score, we know we can get that from her whenever needed.”
The other two sophomores have transferred in from other schools, one in the middle of last season and another from the junior college ranks this past offseason. Makailah Dyer came into the program prior to the second semester last year, so she’s become acclimated with the system and will be eligible to play once she sits for a full year, per NCAA transfer rules.
“For a player that has had to sit for a year, most kids may go in cruise control a bit, but she didn’t,” Brewster said of the Wisconsin transfer. “It wears on a kid’s psyche sometimes when you can’t play, but she’s handled it well. She’s made the team better and she has a unique knack to score.”
Kelsey Knox comes to UND from Johnson County Community College where she played her freshman season in 2011-12 before having her last season cut short due to injury. As a freshman at JCCC, she averaged 4.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game as her team went a combined 62-5 during the last two seasons that included back-to-back NJCAA Region VI D-II championship game appearances.
“She was injured last year and she’s just got to get healthy. She’s got some unique skill sets and it would be nice to get her in the rotation, but she’s got to get used to our system and remain healthy,” Brewster said.
The freshman class is seven deep with a pair redshirting last year added to five newcomers to the program. Ellen Kiser and Katie Klapprodt both redshirted last season and are ready to try to crack the rotation.
“Ellen is a work horse,” Brewster said. “She’s handy around the hoop and a mobile, physical player. She has an opportuinity to play a bit.
“Katie is an energetic player that works hard in practice but the biggest thing for her is to get healthy. She has the willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team get better.”
Leah Szabla comes highly touted at the point guard position and she’ll be counted on to immediately step into a prominent role. She started all three games in the exhibition international tour in Toronto, Ont., in August and effectively ran the offense, helping to calm some uneasiness surrounding the team’s bugaboo of turning the ball over last season.
“Leah adds a different type of tenacity at the point that we haven’t had for a while,” said Brewster. “She’s a very heady player, very hard-nosed and gritty. She’s worked very hard to improve her game, she picks up on things very quickly and is tenacious on the defensive end of the floor.”
Two more freshmen guards are Madison Kramer and Ellie Ripplinger joining Samantha Roscoe and Erin O'Toole, who will add size to the roster. Roscoe comes over from Australia, where she was an all-star selection while playing for the Stirling Senators of the WABL and was the team’s MVP three years running.
“She’s always trying to improve,” Brewster said. “She’s going to play some four or five. She’s very handy around the hoop. The big thing with her is to adjust to the speed of the game.”
“Our ladies want to put a better product on the floor and the effort has been there in the preseason,” said Brewster. “They have some things to prove. Being in the Big Sky, we haven’t earned our respect and we’re ready to achieve our goals.”
The season gets underway Saturday with the first of two exhibition games, battling Minnesota Crookston before a Nov. 5 tilt with Bemidji State. The regular season tips off Nov. 10 at perennial national power Iowa State.
“Our fans appreciate playing the regional opponents (Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota),” Brewster said. “Minnesota returns the trip, so getting rivalries to come to the Betty has been good, too. We’ll bring in Utah (next year) and having South Dakota on the schedule is always a highlight for our fans. I think our schedule prepares us for the Big Sky Conference grind.”