Sharon Versyp “gets it.” She understands what it takes to run a successful program – from off-season conditioning to aggressive marketing and everything in between. Last but certainly not least, she gets the importance of running a clean and transparent program.
Versyp brought her own staff to West Lafayette, and they have hit the ground running. The coaches knew what they wanted from their team in terms conditioning and playing style. They have put in their system and by all indications the players have been glad to receive the guidance. Warm and fuzzy are two adjectives that don’t immediately come to mind when describing Versyp, but her fairness and direct manner has been a welcome change. You might not always agree with Versyp’s decisions, but you will always know where she stands. Versyp has won wherever she has been, and there is no doubt that she is an excellent coach.
To quote Elgin Bailey, however, “Coaching is easy; it’s winning that’s hard.”
The 2006-2007 Boilers may discover just how correct old Elgin was. This year’s edition of the Boilermakers may be talented, fit, and plucky, but they currently have only 9 active players. The team enters the season with the starting line-up in flux. Against post-oriented teams Katie Gearlds will play the point; against perimeter-oriented teams Katie will shift up to the wing and freshman FahKara Malone will start at the 1. Realistically, all the better teams Purdue will play have athletic guards and Malone’s speed will be crucial. Purdue looks to be in excellent hands for the next four years under Malone’s direction, but every freshman point guard experiences some growing pains.
Finally, while the Boilers are lowest in number (Natasha Bogdanova, Kalika France, and Brittany Dildine hope to join the team in 2007) and still adjusting to a new system, the non-conference schedule is the most demanding in several years. While this will result in a large number of competitive contests for the Mackey faithful to enjoy, it means that one can no longer pencil in all the W’s before the first game.
No matter what, the team will play hard, smart basketball. They will be fun to watch and easy root for. It looks to be a great season to be a Boiler fan no matter what the final W-L record may be.
Katie Gearlds, Jodi Howell, Lauren Mioton, and FahKara Malone comprise the guard corps. Katie can play any position, and will see some time at the point. The speed at which the younger players pick up the position will dictate Katie’s minutes at the one. Gearlds may not be the quickest slasher, and her ability to protect the ball against faster guards is suspect. There’s no questioning her assist to turnover ratio, however, or the fact that she keeps the younger players around her cool, calm, and collected.
Malone is a true point guard – she can penetrate and dish, hit her open shots, and appears comfortable leading the team. The sky’s the limit for FahKara, although she’s bound to have her share of freshman moments this season. Lauren Mioton will see some time at the point as well. She may not have the raw athletic talent of the other guards, but she’s a heady player. Lauren’s entry passes to the post has always been her strong suit, and she looks to benefit greatly from the more scripted offensive sets the Boilers will run this year.
Jodi starts at the 2 – and her hair quick shooting trigger and range makes her an offensive threat from anywhere on the court. Jodi is more than a scorer, however. She’s an excellent defender who never gives up on a play. The largest question mark with Howell has always been her health, if her knees hold up she will be a major contributor on the team.
These 4 will be joined in 2007 by Kalika France and Brittany Dildine. France is arriving from 2006 National Champion Maryland. She has been beset by injuries which have limited her collegiate career, but France was a blue chip recruit out of high school. Presumably she understands what it takes to reach the Final Four. Brittany will join the team when her volleyball career wraps up. Dildine is extremely athletic, and, when she last hit the hardwood in high school, had a beautiful jump shot and excellent passing skills. If France and Dildine can spell the others for 10 minutes or so a night, they will help the team immensely.
Kiki Freeman is a living testament to the benefit of perseverance and hard work. Over her time at Purdue she’s been able to harness her raw skills and enters the season as a player who will be expected to play major minutes. Kiki is primarily thought of as a defensive stopper as she’s long and quick. She’s always been able to put the ball in the hoop, however, and is a threat to score from 10 feet and in. Katie Gearlds also deserves a mention as she’s undoubtedly a wing at the next level. Katie can disappear in games, and many times appears to be more intent on setting up teammates than looking for her own shots. When the game is over, however, she’ll have recorded double figure points, and stuffed the rest of the box score with rebounds, steals, assists, and blocked shots. If Purdue generates some buzz by knocking off a few of the ranked teams on their schedule, Katie has an excellent shot at being named an All-American. She was a unanimous selection to the pre-season All-Big 10 team, and barring an injury should be featured on the post season roster as well.
Last year’s starters Erin Lawless and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton anchor the middle. If the exhibition season is any guide, Erin has taken a huge step forward this year. She is much more aggressive and is using her speed and strength to get to the rim and draw fouls. Lindsay is coming off a summer playing for USA Basketball, something which helped her confidence and aggression. Lindsay was jobbed last year for Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year. One hopes that this year her abilities will be recognized outside of West Lafayette. She is one of the rarest commodities in basketball – a post player who can defend any position, able to steal the ball from speedy guards and block the shots of the tallest posts. This year she will be looking to add consistent scoring to the mix.
Coming off the bench will be Danielle Campbell, Purdue’s purest post. Danielle is a wonderful mix of an “old school” post that can establish position on the low block and “new look” athlete and outside shooter. She will be expected to deliver a great deal this year, and she’s completely up to the challenge. Also coming off the bench is Laura Garriga. Laura hails from Spain and will need some time to adjust to the intensity of D1 play in America.
In the wings waits Natasha Bogdonova. She tore her ACL this summer and is in the middle of her re-hab. If she can come back and contribute she will see action later in the year. If she can not, she’ll take a medical red shirt and return next year.
Versyp has taken advantage of her posts’ strengths by positioning them at the top of the key. From there they can either pass to guards waiting behind the arc or cutting to the hole (the dreaded triangle offense) or “put it on the deck” and attack the basket. The later move is likely to draw fouls on slower posts who are trying to prevent dribble penetration. Katie, Erin, Kiki, and Lindsay are all good passers, and one can expect to see much more use of high low sets and interior ball movement.
The Boilers open the season by hosting the first 2 rounds of the WNIT. It is a “win or go home” style of tournament, but tickets for Purdue’s second-round game have been included in the season ticket package. Although assuming a win against Belmont is just the sort of hubris that the basketball gods frown upon, there is method to the scheduler’s madness. Because the first two rounds of the WNIT are included in the season ticket package, the official attendance numbers will be in the 7,000 range. In contrast, single game ticket sales are always quite a bit lower –a draw of 3,000 paying customers would be a high estimate. Thus, making these games part of the regular package adds about 4,000 fans to the numbers Purdue can use to make the case that they should host the later rounds. Looking at the average attendance of their most likely opponents – St. Johns or North Carolina State in the semi-finals and Stanford in the finals – an official attendance over 6,000 will put the Boilers in the driver’s seat for securing home court advantage throughout the contest.
Belmont - Thursday, November 8, Preseason WNIT
It’s good news bad news for Belmont. The Bruins are one of the best teams in their conference. But that conference is the Atlantic Sun. The Boilers should have little trouble sending the Bruins back to Tennessee before the weekend.
Dartmouth or Hartford -Sunday, November 12, Preseason WNIT
Hartford will have to have a terrible game to stub their toes against Dartmouth, a good Ivy League team that is not in the Hawks’ class.
Hartford is the unanimous choice to win the American East this year, and they are led by one of WBB’s brightest young coaches in Jen Rizzoti. The fiery ex-UConn Husky has imprinted the team with her fierce competitive spirit, and the Hawks will provide a stern test for the Boilers in Mackey. Even so, Purdue’s superior talent should prevail.
Washington - November 17
The women’s and men’s double header on November 17 is the athletic department’s way of replacing the Blockbuster in Indianapolis. The Huskies feature All Conference forward Cameo Hicks, and are predicted to finish fourth in the Pac-10. The team hopes to improve on last year’s 19-11 finish, but will have a hard time beating Purdue on their home court.
@ Arkansas State – November 24
This is the second game in a home and home series. The Lady Indians may make things closer than the 95-58 pasting they received in Mackey last year, but the Boilers should win going away.
@ Connecticut – November 30
Head coach Geno Auriemma has said that he believes that this year’s UConn Huskies squad looks like a Final Four team, and he ought to know. The Huskies at home is the ultimate “hard out” in women’s basketball, and it would be pretty extraordinary for Purdue to pull off a victory in Storrs. Even if the team does lose, this game should provide an excellent benchmark – allowing them to identify what will work and what must improve upon to reach the Final Four themselves.
Gonzaga – December 2
The Bulldogs are projected to finish third in the West Coast Conference after two years of winning the regular season WCC title. The Zags’ best player is senior Stephanie Hawk who earned preseason All-WCC honors. Like their male counterparts, the Gonzaga women are itching to make more of an impact at the national level. The Boilers should prevail with little problem, however.
@ Notre Dame – December 6
The Irish will be looking for payback after dropping last year’s contest in Mackey by 11 points. Notre Dame has the talent to potentially avenge that loss when they meet this year in South Bend. The Irish has been very inconsistent of late, however, and it’s just as likely that they will tank two years in a row.
@ Butler – December 10
The second of a home and home series, this game gives the Boilers some “face time” in Indianapolis. Even though the Bulldogs do not offer much in the way of competition, the game should help with recruiting the Circle City.
Mississippi State – December 16
The Bulldogs are RPI darlings for the Boilers. A bad team that the Boilers should beat easily - yet one that won’t hurt their numbers too much come NCAA time. MSU was dead last in their conference last season, and they will probably finish toward the bottom this year as well. That conference is the mighty SEC, however, so when the Bulldogs play (and probably lose) to teams like Tennessee, Georgia, and LSU, Purdue’s RPI will be nudged upward.
Texas- San Antonio – December 20, Duel in the Desert at UNLV
UNLV or Boise State – December 21, Duel in the Desert at UNLV
Christmas should come early for the old gold and black as the Boilers are the class of the Duel in the Desert.
Michigan – December 28, @ February 15
If the Wolverines can stay healthy they should improve quite a bit on last year’s 0-16 Big 10 record. Which is not to say they’ll crack the top half of the conference any time soon or be a very good team. The Wolverines have nowhere to go but up, and sooner or later Cheryl Burnett’s coaching prowess should pay off.
Penn State – December 31
The Lady Lions are another team looking to move up. Head coach Rene Portland experience her first losing season – ever- in over 20 years of coaching in 2005-2006. There’s little doubt the team will bounce back, the only question is how high. Tied for fourth place in the Big 10 sounds about right to me.
Iowa - @ January 1, February 22
The Hawkeyes are another team that needs a healthy season to take the next step. They feature last year’s Big 10 freshman of the year in Megan Skouby and are very young overall. There is not doubt that Lisa Bluder’s teams can score, but lack of an effective defensive has always kept them from winning tough games when they need to.
@ Texas – January 7
The Longhorns entered last season with high hopes, but lack of experience and injury caught up with the team, and they ended up with a losing 13-15 record. This year is all about regaining respect, and what better way to do that than knock off a ranked team on national TV? That ranked team is Purdue, by the way. On a neutral court this contest would lean towards the Boilers, but it will be hard to pull one out in Austen.
Michigan State - @ January 11, February 11
On paper the Spartans are experiencing a down year. The star players of the Final Four team are all gone, and their replacements have not proven that they can fill their shoes. Head Coach Joanne P. McCallie demands extreme effort from her players, and they will outwork and out hustle any team not ready for them. Versyp isn’t a slouch at the hustle game either, however, and the Boilers should be able to give back all that they get and more.
Indiana - January 14, @ January 21
Purdue’s gain was Indiana’s loss, as the team found itself without a head coach when Versyp returned to her alma mater. New head coach Felisha Legette-Jack found the cupboard bare when she arrived, as IU’s best players last year were seniors. It should prove to be a difficult rebuilding year for the Hoosiers. They will have extra motivation when playing the Boilers this season, but motivation alone is unlikely to bridge the huge talent gap between the Boilermakers and the Hoosiers.
Northwestern - @ January 18
Between Northwestern slowly improving and other Big 10 teams quickly getting worse, the Wildcats should improve on last year’s 10th place finish in the conference. Beth Combs has improved every facet of the team since her arrival, but NU still has a very long way to go before they can expect to get above .500 in the Big 10.
Ohio State – January 29
The Buckeyes are the consensus pick to win the Big 10 this season, and they feature consensus Big 10 player-of-the-year Jessica Davenport. Jessica doesn’t have as much around her this year when compared to last, however. This year the Bucks may be vulnerable than last. Last year’s back court of Ashley Allen and Kim Wilburn are gone. Brandi Hoskins suffered an injury and may not be full strength this season. OSU’s largest loss, however, may be little-mentioned post Debbie Merrill. All Merrill did was whatever the team needed her to do to win. If any team is going to knock the Buckeyes off their perch, it will probably be Purdue. The schedule has the Boilers and Bucks only facing each other once this year, and the game will be at Mackey Arena. If the Boilers can take care of business against the other Big 10 teams, the contest on January 29 might be for the conference crown.
Minnesota - @ February 1
Picture an airplane that runs out of gas 500 feet over the ground. The engine sputters and coughs for a minute or two before it cuts out completely and the plane comes crashing to the ground. That pretty well describes the Minnesota Women’s basketball team. After a mediocre season, there were massive defections from the team. There are only 2 players from last season returning, and of the 12 players on the active roster this year, 7 are freshmen. Many of the departing players gave the cryptic, sports-speak quotes that indicate that team chemistry was at absolute zero levels. All this drama points directly to head coach Pam Borton as the source of the problem. Even if last year was a one-time aberration, the team will suffer for a many seasons as the current players mature.
Illinois - February 8, @ February 25
While programs like Minnesota have taken dramatic dives, Illinois has undergone a steady decline. Head coach Teresa Grentz has been phoning it in for several years now, and this year’s edition of the Fighting Illini doesn’t look to be able to reverse the overall trend. The Illini’s Achilles’ heel – poor discipline and sloppy execution- plays right into Purdue’s hands. Expect this year’s Boilers to handle the orange and blue fairly easily both home and away.
Wisconsin - @ February 18
Head coach Lisa Stone’s seat may be getting warm this year as the Badgers have failed to do any better than mediocre since she assumed the position. The team features the superb Jolene Anderson, and she is joined on the perimeter by the very capable Janese Banks. After that the talent gets very thin very fast. The Badgers will probably move up in the Big 10 as they climb over programs in decline, but they are unlikely to pose much of a threat to the top 5 teams in the conference.