The Purdue University Boilermakers represent a classic good news/bad news story as they enter the 2004-2005 season. First the bad news: The Big 10ís all-time winning-est class has graduated. Gone are 4 senior starters including the second highest scorer in Purdueís history and a point guard with four years experience. A repeat of last yearís 29-4 season record would appear to be extremely unlikely, an improvement on that mark too much to hope for.
Now for the good news: The Big 10ís all-time winning-est class has graduated. Their departure has made room for an exciting freshman class. Four players who have never been on the court at tip-off have starting roles to fill, and every team member will face a new set of challenges and opportunities. This renewal and change is the very essence of college sports, and it is the reason why university teams remain compelling year after year. The 2004-2005 Boilers are unlikely to enjoy the astronomical winning percentage seen during the previous few years, and those who measure a seasonís success only in terms of Wís and Lís may be disappointed. Purdue isnít going anywhere soon, however. They can still be expected to win at least twice as many games as they lose. Look for the Old Gold and Black to remain in the top third of the Big 10 and in the Top 25 nationally for this year and many to come.
Hereís more bad news: This year the Boilers are young and green. Only 1 starter returns, and only 3 returning players have averaged more than ten minutes per contest up to this point in their careers. If the two exhibition games are any guide, the team will begin the year shooing poorly from the free throw line and the field, rebound sporadically, and turn the ball over way too much.
After that, however, itís all good. Once the players adjust to their new roles and learn to play with each other, this yearís team has the talent, balance, and depth to do very well. Team height and quickness, two weakness of last yearís squad, have been addressed with the addition of a strong freshman class. It is said that the best thing about freshmen is that after a year they become sophomores, but Coach Curry and her staff appear to be genuinely looking forward to working with the five newest Boilers. For those who enjoy watching student-athletes grow, mature and improve- the upcoming season promises to be one that is extremely pleasurable indeed.
Point guard: The first question asked of Coach Curry and the members of the 2004-2005 team is ďWho will run the point?Ē But this is the sanitized version of the thing that everyone is actually thinking: ďCan Sharika Webb get it done, or will Katie Gearlds fill the position by default?Ē Sharika's court vision and passing skills have never been in doubt, and her quick hands make her a formidable open court defender. While a four year starter such as Erika Valek will always be missed, a look at last year's final stat.s reveals that Webb isn't necessarily as huge a step back as many now suggest. Her assist to turnover ratio, while not as good as Katie Gearlds, was over 1.0, and she had the most assists per minute played of anyone on the team. Sharika still exhibits a disturbing tendency to wander into trouble as she brings the ball up the court, however, and then compounds the problem by committing turnovers as she forces things or gets frustrated. It's fair to say that Webb will see more traps than a lobster in a fish tank and she will be challenged by every opposing team until she demonstrates that she can get the ball up the court while being pressured. Curry has stated that Sharika will start the first game of the season, and after that it's up to her to prove that the head coach's faith has not been misplaced. If her increased minutes result in improved decision making and more consistency, Webb has a starting job for 2 years. If they don't, Katie Gearlds will step in. The worry with KG isnít that she canít run the point in a capable fashion. She can. But Katie canít play on the wing if she's bringing the ball up the court. Like Webb, Gearlds can expect to be constantly challenged until she proves she can handle the pressure. Freshman Brina Pollack, on the other hand, will spend the year not worrying so much about how to get the ball up the court as with what to do with it when she gets it there. Expect Brina to spend a year learning the ropes and adjusting to Big 10 ball before she sees many minutes.
Shooting guard: Katie Gearlds should get her own category as she doesn't fit into any one position box. Perhaps it is best to say that she's a basketball player. Expect her to play minutes at every position from the 1 to the 4 spot. If Ayaís knee allows her to see extended minutes on the wing, Gearlds can be expected to spend a great deal of her time as a shooting guard. Katieís efficiency is one of her best attributes as she can easily score in double figures without taking the lionís share of the teamís shots. Gearlds' huge numbers have not gone unnoticed as she's been nominated as a candidate for virtually every major national award, and was named to the pre-season All-Big 10 first team.
Junior Ashley Mays is a bona fide success story. She has persevered through academic suspensions and extremely limited playing opportunities as a sophomore. Through sheer hard work and determinations she has worked herself into a key contributor in the back court. Mays has been groomed as a defensive stopper, as she has the agility and lateral quickness to stay with anyone. Maysí lack of playing experience is revealed in some of the decisions she makes on the court, as she can force things at times. Tyeisha Jackson is a freshman who will be difficult to keep on the bench. In the exhibition games Jackson revealed a beautiful stroke and appears to be a capable scorer whether spotting up for three point shots or driving to the hoop.
Wing: Aya Traore is finally healthy after taking a medical redshirt last season to allow a torn knee ligament to heal. Aya has yet to show the Boiler faithful her full potential, but before her injury she was reported to be explosive around the basket. Katie Gearlds can be expected to play on the wing a great deal of the time as well. Freshman Lakisha (KiKi) Freeman possesses a world of athleticism and potential, but, like Brina, will probably spend her freshman year adjusting to Div. 1 play.
Power Forward: Erin Lawless is the unquestioned starter and go-to player in the power forward position although she has the speed and outside shot to play on the perimeter as well. Erin is an aggressive player and a ferocious scorer. It has been reported that she's improved her game on the defensive side of the ball as well as made a commitment to increasing her rebounding numbers. Look for Erin to be named to an All-Big 10 team at the end of the season.
Junior Carol Duncan is a warrior who is more than willing to mix it up under the basket. Carol's propensity for picking up fouls has limited her time on the court to date. Freshmen Natasha Bogdanova and Lindsay Wisom-Hylton bring very different strengths to the forward position. Natasha canít be missed when she posts up as she makes herself a huge target. When she receives the ball Natasha has demonstrated a sweet set of moves that allows her to either make the lay-up or get fouled. Here's hoping her free throw shooting percentage increases as she is sure to be sent to the line a large number of times each game. Natasha is also an energetic rebounder and a fierce defender.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton's nick-name should be Smooth as she is a player that seems to effortlessly find herself in the right place at the right time. Often that place is all alone under the basket. Lindsay is an excellent passer, and one can expect the high-low game, an uncommon occurrence in past years, to become a staple of the Boiler offense. Lindsay's decision making and court awareness bode for a very bright future. Hannah Anderson returns after yet another ACL tear. Expect the personable senior to remain a fan and team favorite.
Center: The only named center on the team, Emily Heikes is all alone in the middle. No, she hasn't grown 4 inches since her junior year. Even so, the presence of some taller teammates should make Emily's job a little easier. Senior Emily is the unquestioned leader of the squad, and her hard-nosed, blue collar style has rubbed off on her teammates. Despite being dismissed as the Boiler's weakest link last year, Emily has more than held her own against some of the countries better (and much taller) centers. Perhaps it's time to start giving Emily the benefit of the doubt rather than dismiss her out of hand. Natasha Bogdanova's back to the basket style of play maker her the natural back-up to Emily.
Coaching: Numbers don't lie. Coaches don't win over 80% of their games over a 5 year span without being expert at their craft. When looking at Kristy Curry's career record of 131-31 one can only come to one conclusion, and that she's one of the best coaches in the country. That message is slowly moving out of West Lafayette. The pundits and experts of the world have finally noted that the National Championship Team that she inherited is now long gone. She has hand picked all her assistants and every player on the team was recruited and signed during her tenure. And the Boilers keep on winning. With the early commitments of some of Indiana's better prep players a bright future for the team is assured.
11/21/04 Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne
The Boilers may find themselves more challenged by their exhibition opponents. Curry gets another opportunity to fiddle with line-ups and player combinations before things get tough as the Mastodons will be sorely overmatched.
11/25/04 vs. Arkansas
The "Ladybacks" are a member of the formidable SEC, and thus can be expected to field a competitive team. Arkansas returns four starters from a 16-12 team, and picks up two more potential starters that missed virtually all of 2003-04 with injury. Arkansas shot only 28.8% in an exhibition loss, however, suggesting that there is still ample room for improvement with the Razorbacks
11/26/04 vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christy or Idaho State
Neither team should present much of a challenge here. Look for Purdue to start the season 3-0.
Chandi Jones has left for the WNBA, but the Cougars return senior center and All-Conference , Wade Trophy and Naismith Award candidate Sancho Lyttle. Lyttle might be the best post player the Boilers will face all year. Houston will play a tough game, but the Old Gold and Black should have the depth to pull this one out in the friendly confines.
12/3/04 @ UCSB
The Thunderdome is one of the most difficult places for visiting teams to play, and Mark French's squad will be hoping to avenge last year's loss in Mackey. The Gauchos best player is the versatile Kristen Mann and the team features a physical brand of play. A tough match-up for Purdue.
12/5/04 @ UCLA
The Boilers continue their west coast swing with a visit to the Bruins of UCLA. Last year Kathy Olivier's squad gave the Boilers all they could handle in the Blockbuster. The team returns its premier perimeter of Nikki Blue and Noelle Quinn, and adds prep standout Lindsey Pluimer. The heart and soul of the team might be the steady Lisa Willis, however. A west coast split should be considered a moral victory for the young Boilers.
Curry loves scheduling C-USA teams, and this year there are 2 on the Boiler's pre-conference roster. Doug Bruno's teams are usually physical and athletic, and the Blue Demons will present a stern test for Purdue.
12/12/04 Western Michigan
For those who remember all the way back to the beginning of the 2003-2004 season, recall that the team got off to a slow start and had some issues with offensive and defensive intensity. The Bronchos were a team that the Boilers faced when they were deep in their early season funk. Purdue struggled in Kalamazoo before finally putting together enough stops and productive offensive possessions to seal the win. In Mackey the Boilers should have an easier time against the MAC squad.
12/18/04 Boilermaker Blockbuster Duke
In the past few years, the Purdueís toughest opponent in the Blockbuster has been itself. Perhaps it is because the Blockbuster always falls around Final Exam time, but the Boilers ahve historically played quite poorly in Indy. Duke is experiencing a down year, but, even so, the team is chock-a-block with high school All-Americans. The Blue Devils will eat the Boilers alive if the Old Gold and Black can't match their intensity from the opening tip.
12/28/04 South Dakota State
Sandwiched between Duke and the beginning of the Big 10 season, South Dakota State represents a nice confidence builder as the team eases back into gear after Christmas. SDSU was recently elevated to Div 1 status, and should present no challenge to the Boilers.
12/30/04 @ Wisconsin 2/27/05 Wisconsin
It seems that the Boilers always begin the Big 10 portion of their season in Madison. This year is no exception as the Badgers provide the bookends of the Big 10 season. Second year head coach Lisa Stone is proving to be a capable recruiter and a good floor coach. The talent hasnít arrived yet, however, and the Boilers should be able to prevail both home and away.
1/2/05 @ Ohio State, 2/24/05 Ohio State
The Buckeyes look to be spooky good this year. They obliterated a decent Arizona team on their way to the WNIT pre-season final. This year's edition of the Scarlet and Grey is skilled and deep in every position. Their only weakness may be lack of depth up front and Head Coach Jim Foster's in-game coaching decisions. For Purdue to compete for a share of the Big 10 crown they will need to at least split the series.
1/6/05 Indiana, 2/20/05 @ Indiana
Purdue opens the home game portion of the Big 10 season against the young Hoosiers. The team's fortunes took a huge hit when their returning high-scorer and leader Jenny DeMuth tore her ACL on the first day of practice. One wonders if Kathi Bennettís seat isn't beginning to warm up as the Hoosiers show no evidence that they will move up the Big 10 standings any time soon.
1/9/05 Michigan , 2/17/05 @ Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines experienced culture shock in the worst way when long time Southwest Missouri State head Cheryl Burnett took over the helm last year. A wave of transfers followed, and Burnett now has a small number of young but determined players. They are led by Tabitha Pool, one of the most gifted athletes in the conference. The Wolverines look to be an improving team, but will have trouble competing this year.
1/13/05 Minnesota, 2/13/04 @ Minnesota
Any team with Kodak All-American Janelle McCarville is a dangerous team. McCarville is sure to act as a black hole in the middle, sucking defenders into her and freeing up perimeter scorers so they can get off uncontested shots. If enough other players can step up and score consistently, the Gophers will be a handful. If McCarville can't play due to injury, however, Pam Borton's team becomes average very quickly.
2/16/05 @ Notre Dame
Sandwiched into the Big 10 schedule is the televised rivalry game in South Bend. The Irish look to be a much improved team this year. They had little trouble with the Duke Blue Devils in the pre-season WNIT, and feature one of the premier players in the country in Jackie Batteast. This may be one of the more difficult tests for the Boilers all year.
1/20/05 @ Penn State, 2/6/05 Penn State
The Nittany Lions lost their two star players to the WNBA, and appear to be playing with Little and None in the post. Despite their perennial lack of depth and star power, Rene Portland's teams keep finding ways to win. They have two proven scorers and play-makers in the backcourt of Jess Strom and Tanisha Wright. While it doesn't appear as if they have much else on paper, past experience teaches never to rule the Lady Lions out. Penn State should once again be in the thick of the Big 10 race.
The Hawkeyes set the league on fire when Lisa Bluder took over head coaching duties in 2000. Scoring has never been a problem in Iowa City, but lack of defense has prevented Iowa from getting to that proverbial next level. This year looked to be a rebuilding season before returning point guard Lindsay Richards was lost to an ACL tear. Now it looks like Iowa will tread water in the Big 10 for another year as they wait for a strong 5-player recruiting class to appear on campus next season.
1/26/05 @ Michigan State
This isn't your grandmother's Michigan State Spartans. The team has been improving steadily under the guidance of Joanne P. McCallie. She instilled a hard nosed commitment to defense into the Spartans, and contests with MSU are usually ugly, grind it out affairs. This year MSU brings back all its starters and, if they develop the mental toughness to close out close games, they have a real shot at winning it all in the conference. Purdue is at a disadvantage against the Spartans this year as they only compete one time- in East Lansing.
1/30/05 @ Northwestern
The Wildcats have been in the basement of the Big 10 for years, and this season looks to be no different. Senior center Sarah Kwasinski is a very nice player, but there isn't enough around her to expect the Cats to compete. The bright spot for the Purple and White is the dismissal of the perennially confused June Olkowski. She was replaced by Beth Combs. Combs brought Colgate to respectability, and it is hoped that she will do the same in Evanston. If (and it's a huge if) Combs can recruit the talent needed to compete at this level the Wildcats may eventually return to the top, or at least middle, of the conference.
Rumor has it that Teresa Grentz's contract contains the stipulation that she be introduced as a Hall-of-Fame-Member Teresa Grentz when she takes the court in the Assembly Center. One certainly couldn't tell that Grentz was worthy of hall of fame credentials from the way her players execute on the court. For years the Illinois program has been beset by player transfers, under achievement, and general unrest. The powers that be in Champaign have yet to take notice, however. Grentz is awarded contract extensions even as the Michigan States and Minnesotaís of the world sail past them up the Big 10 ranks. Expect another sloppy and inconsistent season from the Illini and for Purdue's 20 year Mackey winning streak against the orange and blue to continue for another year.