Gustavus women’s basketball opened their season with a game on Wednesday, Nov. 20 against River Falls. With only two returning starters to the program, Head Coach Laura Kelly looks to new players to step into key roles.
“I thinks it’s a challenge they’re ready for. We would never ask a girl to step into a role that they’re not ready for. We’re athletes. Everybody wants a go-to role, everyone wants that green light to take the last shot,” Kelly said.
According to Kelly, two key players for the Gusties this season will be Senior Guard Julia Dysthe and Sophomore Point Guard Karina Schroeder. Schroeder was an all-freshmen performer for Gustavus last season. According to Kelly, both players have acknowledged their new roles and are more than capable of handling the pressure.
While the women strive to be the best team in the MIAC and make an appearance at the NCAA tournament, they take a fundamental approach and take each practice and game in stride. According to Kelly, if the players can master their individual skills, their bigger goals will happen naturally.
“I think that our goals are pretty simple. We want to be a top team in our league. We want to have a chance to play in the conference tournament that the top 6 teams go to. You want to win that conference tournament and be that team that goes to the NCAA tournament,” Kelly said.
Despite being a young team, inexperience will not be a permanent hindrance to the Gusties. While the first-years need to adjust to college play, Senior Captain and Forward Britta Rinke says the players exhibit a lot of potential.
“Right now, we go into practice every day with a focus or goal of what we want to accomplish today and we try to do that. I think if we can continue to do that, our team is going to continue to be a better basketball team, and we’re going to improve and eventually compete for those goals that we set long term,” Kelly said.
According to Kelly, the first-years bring enthusiasm and energy to the court. Early in the season, the young players have to learn to adjust to playing at a higher level under new conditions, including a shot clock, as well as finding their role on a talented team.
“There’s not a lot of experience, but there’s a lot of talent and team chemistry. Losing a lot of seniors last year will definitely affect us. But we’re going to perform at the same level that we have in previous years and we’re going to try to be at the top of the MIAC,” Rinke said.
First-year Guard Taylor Ebnet said the hardest transition she’s had to experience is knowing she is not a starter for the team.
“It’s been hard to adjust because on my old team, I was used to playing the full 36 minutes, and now I’m not guaranteed any floor time. The hardest thing has been going from a top-tier player to almost a nobody in the MIAC. When I am on the court, I know it’s important to show what I have because you only get so many tries,” Ebnet said.
Women’s basketball has one of the longest seasons in college athletics, because they compete through both semesters. To keep the players motivated, Kelly plays to the athletes’ competitive nature during practices.
“We try to make things competitive. So, one team that wins a drill gets to get water, the other team has to run a sprint before they get their water. They’re competitive people, and they want to win. It’s not so much having to run the sprint as it is having bragging rights because our team just beat yours,” Kelly said.
Despite the long season, Rinke says she tries not to take anything for granted, even the hardest practice. As a senior, she’s aware that her time on the court with her fellow Gusties is limited.
“The season gets long, it’s five to six months, so it’s hard not to get worn out. But I love the game. As a senior, I have to take everything in stride and know it’s my last season. It’s sad, even if practice is hard, because I know I don’t have many practices left,” Rinke said.
As a first-year, Ebnet is anticipating her first opportunity to play at a college level. She’s excited for the challenge and knows that even if she makes a mistake, Kelly has prepared her to play college basketball.
“I haven’t even thought about what my first time playing will be like. I’ll probably be really excited and really nervous all at the same time. It’ll be mostly excitement, I know I’m going to be really nervous and thinking about not screwing up instead of playing how Coach Kelly taught me to play. But I’ve learned a lot from her and I think I’m ready, even if I mess up,” Ebnet said.
Kelly says that one of the team’s greatest strengths is their passion for basketball. She is impressed by the players’ work ethic and hunger to compete.
“We have a very cohesive group of young women that truly enjoy each other on and off the floor. They truly love basketball, they play because they love it, and I think they come every day ready to compete and play. I think that’s a huge strength for us,” Kelly said.
Kelly is excited for the season to pick up and to see the women grow by playing in games. The team will be heading to Italy in June for an opportunity to play internationally. Rinke says she’s most excited about playoffs and just spending time with her teammates, especially during January Interim.
“I always look towards playoffs, it’s a whole other level of game. I look forward to little events as a team. We like going to men’s basketball games and hockey games or going out to eat together. I especially love J-term, the whole team is here, you have your two hour class and then it’s all about basketball and sleeping,” Rinke said.