CHICAGO – Continuity is one of the most desired traits that a team can possess from one year to the next. When the University of Chicago women's basketball team takes the court for the 2016-17 season, it will have a familiar look. A large cast of returning veterans is a luxury that UChicago possesses.
The Maroons graduated one starter from last year's lineup and return with a young core in tow. The 16-player squad consists of three seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and six freshmen. Six current players averaged 15 to 28 minutes played per game in 2015-16. Head Coach Carissa Sain Knoche recognizes the importance of veteran experience, which will help UChicago navigate the grind of the season and earn wins in the process.
"It's very important," said Sain Knoche. "We had a lot of players play valuable minutes last year and there's nothing else that replicates playing than actually being out there. We still have a lot to learn, but we are thankful for the experience we do have and are looking forward to gaining even more."
Now entering her fifth year as UChicago's head coach, Sain Knoche guided her squad to a 16-9 overall record in 2015-16. The Maroons went 8-6 in the University Athletic Association (UAA) to finish in a tie for third in the league. The past several iterations of the Maroons have featured an up-tempo offense, aggressive defense and a large player rotation.
"We hope to continue those trends, but we're also ready to evaluate and adjust to the needs of this team as we navigate through the season," Sain Knoche said. "It's up to the team to decide who they are going to be, but I always hope it includes playing hard and having fun."
The 2015-16 squad utilized constant motion offensively to find the best shot, which resulted in the team's best field-goal percentage in five years (44.1 percent). The Maroons averaged 68.8 points per game while allowing 62.8 points per game. Defensively, they forced 21 turnovers per game and held opponents to .390 field-goal percentage.
This year's senior class is comprised of forward Britta Nordstrom, guard Stephanie Anderson and forward Michelle Dobbs. Nordstrom is a three-time All-UAA pick, including a Second Team honor last year. As one of the most efficient scorers in school history, Nordstrom compiled a .603 field-goal percentage last season – the second-best mark in the program's records. She scored 11.6 points per game and pulled down 4.5 rebounds per game. Anderson is a two-time All-UAA Honorable Mention selection who averaged 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest. She shot a team-best 78.9 percent from the free throw line and was one of the squad's top defenders. Dobbs enters her first year on the basketball team after earning seven All-American awards in track and field.
Sain Knoche is counting on her seniors to lead in word and deed, while also incorporating input from all areas of the squad. "I think Britta, Steph and Michelle bring unique perspectives on that topic and have been excellent so far this year," she said. "We are also relying on everyone on the team to be an active participant in 'leading'. There are a lot of different components that make a successful leadership situation and we are really trying to embrace as many of those as possible, with as many people as possible."
Guard Elizabeth Nye returns for her junior campaign after a breakout 2015-16. As a Second Team All-UAA player, she led the Maroons with 12.2 points per game. Nye was particularly effective from long range, netting a team-best 49 three-pointers at 39.2 percent clip. She scored at least 20 points on five occasions.
The current five-member sophomore class proved impactful as freshmen. Forward Olariche Obi was a force in the paint en route to earning UAA Rookie of the Year honors. She shot 52.4 percent from the field, scored 9.4 points per game and pulled down 8.6 rebounds per game. Obi led the team in rebounding 18 times, including eight games with double-digit rebounds. All told, last year's freshmen all played in at least 17 games and combined for 31 starts.
"Our sophomores are fun," said Sain Knoche. "They had five different versions of success last year and I can't wait to see how those experiences help them. I think they left last season highly motivated and worked very hard over the summer. I'm excited for them to attack this year."
Team cohesion and hard work will be keys once again for the Maroons to achieve their goals in 2016-17.
"I hope some of our strengths are our teamwork, our intensity and our effort," said the head coach. "I think that can be a dangerous combination of intangibles that can make X's and O's and skill sets irrelevant. It can also make this team super fun to watch and coach, so those are some of the things we aspire to and work to be great at every day."