CHICAGO – The start of the 2017-18 season for the University of Chicago women's basketball team didn't exactly forecast the type of monumental success the Maroons would go on to achieve in a historic year.
By November 21, 2017, a two-point home loss made the Maroons an even 2-2: So, who could have predicted UChicago would go on to win their next 22?
"At that point in the year, if you would have said, 'don't worry, you're going to win the rest of your games, win the UAA, and lose in the second round of the tournament,' I probably would have taken it," Head Coach Carissa Sain said, recalling the early ups and downs.
"… We did everything we could do (from that 2-2 point in the season) and there is a lot of peace with that. We learned something from that experience, and against, experience contributes to the development of this team."
With 11 returners and five starters back from a squad that made a perfect run through the University Athletic Association before falling in the NCAA Division III Tournament Second Round, the Maroons will have plenty of expectations.
But Sain is adamant this year's version of UChicago Women's Basketball won't spend any time leaning on past successes.
"The expectations are a final compliment to last year's team but to this team, they are just noise because they aren't related to this year's group," she said. "Since the end of last season, we graduated two critical seniors and added five first-years.
… Certainly (last year's experience) contributes to how this team defines its own goals, sets its own expectations, and forge its own path, but nothing more than that. We focus each day on getting better and progressing towards the goals of this team but there is little value in the comparison game."
2017-18 YEAR IN REVIEW
In total, the Maroons finished last season with a 24-3 overall record and 14-0 mark in the UAA, capturing their third perfect run in league play and sixth overall. UChicago's 22-game winning streak matched the second-longest in program history.
The team, led by D3Hoops.com Second-Team All-Region selections Olariche Obi and Mia Farrell, set new records for steals (350), field goals attempted and free-throws attempted, averaged 77.3 points per contest, forced its opponents into 22.6 turnovers (+7.6) per game and outscored them by a 16.9-ppg margin.
The Maroons' only losses: Illinois Wesleyan (Game No. 2), Rose-Hulman (Game No. 4) and St. Thomas, a 68-62 setback in the NCAA Second Round. Sain and her staff tabbed UAA Coaching Staff of the Year for the third time in four years and Sain was also named the D3Hoops.com Central Region Coach of the Year for the second-straight season.
Obi and Farrell, both 2018-19 Preseason All-America Honorable Mention selections, headline a formidable returning group.
Obi, a 5-foot-10 senior forward who also earned WBCA All-American Honorable Mention honors for the Maroons for the first time since the 2011-12 season, averaged 12.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per contest, recording 15 double-doubles in the process. Her 302 rebounds and 75 steals were third-most in UChicago history.
Farrell ran the point and off-guard positions, and the 5-foot-6 junior returns after a sophomore season where she averaged 15.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game. She made 41 3's (.451) and shot 84.4 percent from the free-throw line, later earning First-Team All-UAA honors, along with Obi.
"One of the things I love about both of them is they relish doing the little things to make us great; they're never too good for that," Sain said of the duo. "They shine in 'effort statistics' – rebounds and steals – just as brightly as they shine in points. When your floor leaders embody doing the little things, it creates a higher ceiling for the entire group. What I'm excited to watch this season is how their floor leadership unfolds."
Junior guard/forward Taylor Lake (Second Team All-UAA) also returns after putting together numbers of 13.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game in 27 starts. Guard/forward Miranda Burt made 26 starts as a sophomore and chipped in 9.0 ppg and 38 makes from downtown, and senior guard Jamie Kockenmeister (54.ppg, 3.1rpg), who has the ability to shoot the 3 (27 makes) rounds out the returning starters.
With the graduation of two key senior backcourt leaders, Elizabeth Nye and Madison Dunbar, the Maroons bring in a class of five first-years who will have to adapt to Sain's up-tempo, defensive-minded, turnover-creating style of play.
Klaire Steffens (Vernon Hills, Ill.) and Alison Gill (St. Louis, Mo.), give the Maroons some size as both stand at 6-foot-1, as do matching 5-11 guards Kati Heller (Urbandale, Iowa) and Alina Brennan (Boston, Mass.). Elizabeth Shaw, a 5-foot-7 guard, rounds out the rookie class that will be expected to contribute despite the wealth of returning experience.
"(This team) is tremendously connected and no role goes unnoticed," Sain said of her group. "To win, we have to make sure everyone is prepared to do what they need to do on a given day for us to win and that's a focus for us every day at practice."
UChicago certainly earned plenty of respect in the 2018-19 D3Hoops.com Division III Preseason Poll, as the Maroons landed in the nation's Top 10 at No. 7 and received one first-place vote.
This season tips off Thursday in a road game at Lake Forest, but a perhaps bigger test lies soon after in the matchup at No. 12 Illinois Wesleyan Nov. 11. UChicago opens its home slate in the Midway Classic Nov. 16 & 18, taking on MIT and Wheaton.
A Dec. 3 contest with No. 5 Thomas More (Ky.) marks the Maroons' final home game of the calendar year before starting the 14-game UAA rotation Jan. 5 at the Ratner Athletics Center against rival and No. 18 Washington-St. Louis.