The leaves are turning over, and basketball coaches are yelling about turnovers.
It’s a hysterical time in Hoosier land, and as the climate eventually shifts into chill mode, the region’s local colleges are heating up the nets with championship dreams.
Here now is an outlook for Northwest Indiana’s non-Division I women’s basketball teams.
INDIANA NORTHWEST: The RedHawks should be in the national rankings when the NAIA Division II rankings pop up next week after being in the coaches’ poll every single week last season.
IU Northwest went 22-10, including a blazing 12-1 home mark at the Savannah Center, and defeated eventual national champion Marian in the regular season. The RedHawks lost in semifinals of the Association of Independent Institution tournament.
“Based on our returning talent, experience and depth and the success we had last year versus the nation’s top teams, we are confident that we can compete for the national championship this season,” IUN coach Ryan Shelton said.
Two-time All-American Nicki Monahan, a senior from Portage and 2015 conference player of the year, averaged 17.4 points per game last season. Also back is All-American watch list candidate and Hobqart grad Grayce Roach, a junior who averaged 20 ppg over the final 16 games last season..
Four starters return, and six transfers, including five from junior colleges, join the fray, as do five freshmen, including 6-foot-5 Lisa Gac (Hanover Central), Erin Mullaney (Bishop Noll) and Jayla Crump (Kouts).
The front line includes players who are 6-5, 6-3, 6-1 and 6-1, which means blocking shots and getting out in transition will be important for the RedHawks’ national title dreams.
PURDUE NORTHWEST: It’s a farewell of sorts for the Pride, the newly united athletic programs that made up the formerly separate Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central campuses. Next season will be the first one for the Pride in NCAA Division II meaning this is the last shot at a national title in the NAIA.
Purdue Calumet was 22-9 last season and makes up the bulk of the PNW roster. Purdue Cal fell in the quarterfinals of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tourney but still received an at-large bid to the national tournament, where the Peregrines were eliminated by Mount Marty (S.D.) in their opener.
“I am looking forward to the season starting in just a few weeks,” PNW coach Tom Megyesi said. “We have a lot of starters returning, led by Third Team All-American Cassidy Deno, and we are excited to get started.”
Deno garnered national recognition after averaging 19.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest. The 5-11 senior guard will have a bevy of frontcourt support on the team, including 6-7 forward Darien Thompson (12.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and 6-1 forward Kaite Wampler (11.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg).
Three freshmen will supplement a lineup that only lost one significant contributor from last season’s team and recently won a game against program alumni 97-71..
CALUMET COLLEGE: The lone region team falling on extremely tough times is the group of unknowns at Cal College, which was 1-29 last season, including an 0-19 mark in the CCAC.
Steve Helm is in his second season in control, having taken over after John Maniatis went 9-23 in one year with the program’s reins.
A team that hasn’t had an all-conference player since 2012, Cal College was led last season by two-sport standout Brittni Kisul, who also plays volleyball for the Wave. Kisul averaged 10.8 ppg last season as a junior and had the most total points on the team. Samirah Ali averaged 16.1 ppg but only appeared in seven games.
Helm has restocked the pond, so to speak, with local talent with the additions of Hayley Collins (Hobart), Le’Rona Shelby (Hammond) and Jasmine Southcombe, a point guard from Australia who previously played in Illinois at Lindenwood University-Belleville.
“Hayley is just scratching the surface on reaching her full potential as a basketball player, but her work ethic, defense and rebounding will be key to her making an impact and our success,” Helm said in an August release. “(Shelby) is an athletic and versatile forward that will impact the game in different ways. Being able to play multiple positions will help us tremendously. She has a great attitude and will fit in well with our style of basketball.”
ST. JOSEPH’S: After many years of struggles, the Pumas are on a huge upswing. St. Joe’s went 19-11 last season and made a legitimate run at an NCAA tournament berth, carrying an exhausting strength of schedule.
Three starters are back, led by Kalea Parks, who scored around 17 points per contest last season and has topped the 1,000-point mark after just two years. Abbey Titzer, who averaged six points, will add a strong post presence, and point guard Brittany Morris is back after averaging five assists per game in 2015-16.
Three players on the roster are injured, and right now only 11 players are available.
Junior Rolanda Curington (Lake Central) gets some region teammates as freshmen Brooke Sterkowitz (Hanover Central) and Hannah Albrecht (Crown Point) join the Pumas.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces and some kids that have some ability to step in and play for us, but we return a strong nucleus,” coach Steve Harold said in a recent interview with the Pumas’ web site. “My biggest message to them this is 19-11 is in the rearview mirror and let’s not be complacent. We’ve got to build off of what we’ve done and not live off of what we’ve done.”