Women’s Basketball: Lewis looks for 20 wins, NCAA berth
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media February 20, 2013 10:18PM
Labrenthia Murdock is a senior guard and four-year starter on Lewis' women's basketball team, which made an appearance in the NCAA Division II top 25 earlier this month. | Supplied photo
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:28AM
Doubling last season’s win total and climbing into the NCAA Division II rankings for the first time in six years has created a positive vibe around the Lewis University women’s basketball program.
“It’s amazing, it’s a really good feeling,” said guard Labrenthia Murdock, a four-year starter. “Especially being a senior, this is finally the year I’ve been waiting for.”
But while the No. 24 ranking the first week of February meant national notoriety for the Great Lakes Valley Conference team, coach Lisa Carlsen wants much more for Chicago’s only Division II program.
“It gives people something to talk about, which is awesome, but it doesn’t mean anything,” Carlsen said of the ranking. “I’ll be more concerned ... when the regional polls come out. That’s where we see how we fit in our bid for the tournament.”
Wednesday, the NCAA announced that Lewis is ranked third of 10 teams in the first NCAA Midwest Regional Rankings of the season. The top eight teams in the region qualify for the NCAA Division II Midwest Region Tournament, with the top seed hosting. The rankings again will be released Feb. 27 and March 6.
The long-term goal is plenty of success during the regular season and not having to win the conference tournament to reach the NCAA postseason. Twenty victories, Carlsen said, usually is the “magic number” to make the NCAA Tournament.
Lewis (18-5) will seek the 20-win mark with two of its last three games at home, starting Thursday against Indianapolis. The previous time Lewis won 20 games was 2006-07, when the 28-4 Flyers had four four-year starters.
Carlsen came to Lewis the next season from Winona State and inherited a team with little playing experience.
“We kind of did start over at that point,” she said. “I would love to think we can get the program back to that level in the next couple of years. We have a couple of young classes that are pretty talented.”
Three sophomores who took their lumps during an 8-20 freshman season have joined two seniors to lead the Flyers’ resurgence.
The starting five of seniors Murdock and Sam Rinehart and sophomores Jess Reinhart, Nikki Nellen and Kristin Itschner have made up for the loss of returning point guard Jamie Johnson (Marian Catholic), who’s sidelined with an ACL injury.
“I think we are having an incredible season,” Rinehart said. “Everyone has embraced their roles and brings what they can to the table. When people take on their own roles, you have a team that will be successful.”
“We have a couple of seniors playing the best basketball of their career,” Carlsen said. “The core of our team is sophomores. Those kids were given an opportunity as freshmen to get game experience, and that’s really what has paid off this year.”
The starting lineup:
Reinhart, leading scorer: “She’s a 5-foot-9 post player who gets it done in the bottom half of the lane against 6-foot, 6-1, 6-2,” Carlsen said. “She’s a workhorse.”
“We have a lot more confidence this year,” Reinhart said. “That has to do with having a year under our belts. As freshmen a lot of us got a lot of playing time.”
Nellen, leader in assists: “I didn’t know she would be as good as she is as early as she is, having to play a different role this year,” Carlsen said. “She’s the catalyst.”
“I like when things are speeded up and that’s up to me if I want to speed the game up or slow it down,” point guard Nellen said. “I like being in control.”
Murdock, leader in steals: “Having her best year,” Carlsen said. “Her maturation as far as sharing the basketball and adapting to the system has been huge for us.”
Rinehart: “Sam is definitely our emotional leader,” Carlsen said. “She’s a tough match-up, that 5-11 good rebounder, good ball skills, faces the basket.”
Itschner: “She is best in the open court, Nikki does a great job of finding her,” Carlsen said. “Sees the floor really well, is versatile on the offensive end.”
Lewis has a nine-player rotation, with junior three-point shooter Alexus Grayer the biggest contributor off the bench. Freshmen Mariyah Henley, Alyssa Dengler and Sophie Lichte also are getting important minutes.
“The thing that has made us a good basketball team is it’s probably one of the most unselfish teams I’ve ever coached,” Carlsen said. “They do a great job of sharing the basketball and have a lot of faith in each other.”
“The biggest thing I bring to the table is making sure everyone’s intensity is always there, always playing the hardest we can,” Rinehart said. “Make sure everyone knows this is our chance to be great.”