For only the second time in school history, the Indiana women’s basketball team has earned a spot on the preseason AP top 25 poll. Coming in at No. 24 in the country, the Hoosiers return all contributors from last season’s team aside from Kym Royster. Head coach Teri Moren also reloaded her squad with a promising, six-freshman class.
With outside expectations high for this program, Moren has looked to a strong group of juniors, along with lone senior Brenna Wise, for leadership. Moren thinks her returning players have helped set the tone for the pace at which the team will play.
— Indiana Women’s Basketball (@IndianaWBB) October 30, 2019
“There is no better example of that than your older kids,” Moren said. “They set the tone. They set the standard for how practice is going to be day in and day out.”
Moren points out sophomore Grace Berger and redshirt freshman Chanel Wilson as two players who have grown over the offseason by following this leadership. Because of this, Moren believes her team enters the season with great chemistry.
“I am very proud of our locker room,” Moren said. “I think it is a very healthy place to be.”
Coming back from injuries
While the Hoosiers look like a team that could benefit from great depth, they have dealt with a fair amount of injuries already. Junior Bendu Yeaney injured her achilles during Indiana’s second-round NCAA tournament loss to Oregon on March 24, and is still recovering.
Moren hopes Yeaney is able to progress to full court practice in two weeks. If all goes well, Yeaney will meet with a doctor in December to assess her availability. Realistically, Moren doesn’t see Yeaney returning until late December or some time in January.
“I know [Yeaney] is excited about the work she has obviously put in,” Moren said. “But the timeline for her to get back is sooner than later. We are hopeful.”
Junior Jaelynn Penn has also been dealing with plantar fascia, and according to Moren, was given pretty much the whole summer off. Because she has plantar fascia in both of her feet, it has made the recovery process even more difficult. Moren considers Penn day-to-day.
“Plantar fascia is a funny thing in that I don’t know if there is a remedy for it besides time and we have tried to give her time off,” Moren said. “It seems like right when we get the right foot feeling better, the left foot takes an ugly turn.”
Indiana’s point guard Ali Patberg was named as one of 20 candidates for the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list, but is coming off shoulder surgery. Moren said Patberg is fully practicing, but can tell that she fatigues a more quickly than usual right now.
With the injury to her shoulder, Moren continues to stress rest to Patberg. Her stamina isn’t quite where it was before the surgery, and the best way to recover from it is not overusing the shoulder. That’s been tough on Patberg, someone who was essentially born a gym rat.
Freshmen might see court early
Injuries to returning players have also opened the door for a promising freshman class to take on bigger roles. The team traveled to IUPUI for a closed scrimmage, where Moren was impressed offensively with Mackenzie Holmes. While Holmes struggled defensively guarding veteran players, Moren sees this as a good learning opportunity for the freshman.
“She has proven at least in practice to be a kid that has great hands, soft hands, and can catch a lot of passes around the rim,” Moren said. “Defensively she will continue to improve just like all of our young kids tend to do.”
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Holmes was the 2019 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year, averaging 30.1 points, 16.7 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and 2.9 steals per game, while shooting 63.1 percent from the floor. Indiana fans will also be happy to see 2019 Indiana Miss Basketball Jorie Allen on the floor for the Hoosiers.
Moren describes Allen as a utility player with the ability to succeed in multiple positions. If you asked Allen, she would tell you she knows every position, one through five. Aside being multitalented, Moren believes Allen brings a different mentality than most freshmen. She’s a “nasty competitor” and embraces whatever challenge the team or coaching staff has thrown her way, Moren said. Moren describes Allen as “a coach’s dream.”
“A lot of those young freshmen just kind of sit back and wait for their opportunity, but that is not Jorie,” Moren said. “Jorie is two feet in and she is fighting for playing time and wants to help us be successful.”
Developing flexibility in lineups
While these freshmen are working to establish their roles on the team, perhaps no one has worked harder this offseason than sophomore Grace Berger, according to Moren. Whether it be the dedication Berger has shown in the weight room, the diet she has adhered to or the confidence she has shown, Moren thinks Berger looks completely different from a year ago.
“I have never seen a kid that has been more dedicated to getting better than Grace has been this summer,” Moren said. “She is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence that she wasn’t a year ago and I just think a lot of that has to do with experience.”
Moren has always thought of Berger as having a fantastic mid-range game, but she thinks Berger will be able to get to the rim more often this year, as well as knock down the 3-ball.
The emergence of Berger could also help Indiana play different kinds of lineups. If Keyanna Warthen and Chanel Wilson step up off the bench, Moren thinks the team could even play lineups with Patberg off the ball, giving her more outside scoring opportunities.
Tough tests to start
The Hoosiers will be able to test these lineups in some intriguing nonconference matchups this year. Indiana will travel to Saint Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands to take part in a three-game set at the Paradise Jam. Here, the Hoosiers will see two of women’s college basketball’s premier programs in matchups against South Carolina, Baylor and Washington State.
South Carolina won the NCAA tournament in the 2016-2017 season and has made it to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four over the course of its eight straight tournament appearances. Baylor will be defending its NCAA tournament championship from last season, and is primed for another successful year. These two games will be important benchmarks to see just how dangerous this Indiana team can be.
In order to pull off wins against these top programs, or really anyone for that matter, Moren said the team will need to execute at a higher level than last year. The Hoosiers finished last in the Big Ten in assists last season, leaving plenty of room for improvement in the backcourt.
“We could certainly put more points on the board if we could get that fixed,” Moren said. “I like how this group is really together, on the same page, really for each other.”
With their sights set on another NCAA tournament appearance, Moren sees a desire growing in this team that has grown from the success it built at the end of last season. But this time, the Hoosiers want to achieve greater heights than a second round appearance.
“They are hungry, they want more,” Moren said. “Part of that is just the day-to-day with us and understanding that it is as much mental as it is physical with us. We have to be tougher and we have to be grittier. Everything matters for us right now in practice and that has to translate to the games.”