VALPARAISO — Dani Franklin picked up where she left off last season and Bryce Blood had an impressive debut as the Valparaiso women’s basketball team rolled past IU-Kokomo in its season opener Thursday night.
Franklin had a game-high 26 points while Blood had 13 points and 13 rebounds in her collegiate debut to lead the Crusaders to an 81-47 win over the Cougars at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“It hit me today that this is my last first game,” Franklin said. “It was kind of sad, but also very exciting. I don’t want it to end. I think (this year) is a game changer. I think we’re going to do great things.”
Franklin buried a 3-pointer on Valparaiso’s first possession of the season and the senior had 17 of her 26 points in the first half. Franklin continued to pour it on after the break, scoring nine points in the third quarter before being relegated to a fan for the final frame as Valparaiso coach Tracey Dorow stretched her roster in the blowout victory.
“We came out real strong and we talked about maintaining that intensity,” Dorow said. “We had a bit of a lull early on, but then we got it going again. Dani was really good, it was really fun to see.”
Blood, who earned a start in her first game, had 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half. A highlight, or perhaps lowlight of the night, came in the third quarter when Blood missed two shots directly at the rim, but the freshman kept her composure and grabbed three offensive rebounds, finishing on the final attempt and drawing the foul.
“I was glad I was able to stay with it, but I should’ve been able to hit the first shot,” Blood said. “(Thursday) was fun. The team had great energy, a lot of intensity and everyone was keeping up with the energy.”
The Crusaders outrebounded IU-Kokomo 46-27, including a 20-3 edge on the offensive glass. Valparaiso turned those 20 offensive rebounds into 26 second-chance points.
“We crashed the boards really well on both ends,” Dorow said. “Bryce went after the boards really hard. She was under control when she got it and either put it in or kicked it out and got us another possession.”
Sophomore Grace Hales had 12 points off the bench while freshman Ella Ellenson added six points and six rebounds in her first collegiate game. Valparaiso’s defense was strong throughout the night as the Crusaders corralled 14 steals, including three apiece from Blood, Hannah Schaub and Caitlin Morrison.
The Crusaders (1-0) entered the game with 12 healthy scholarship players. Senior Georgi Donchetz underwent surgery on a partially torn meniscus earlier this week and is expected to be sidelined until the beginning of conference play. Addison Stoller is also recovering from a knee injury and could return later this year.
“We’re looking at the best-case scenario for both of them right now,” Dorow said.