Lewis women's basketball team looks to rebound from upset-ended season
Upsets are a part of the NCAA basketball tournaments every year, hence the term "March Madness" that has come to define the events. One local team is looking to expand on a fantastic season, but also to get over one of those infamous March upsets.
"I think that loss gave us the fuel and motivation to come back even better this season," Lewis women's basketball coach Kristen Gillespie told the Will County Gazette. "There is such a small margin for error in March. I think our players and staff fully understand that now and are committed to doing everything in their power to not let that happen again."
Gillespie's first season as the Flyers' head coach was one for the record books, with a regular season record of 28-3. That record included both a perfect 14-0 record at home and an 18-0 record in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Gillespie was named Coach of the Year in both the Great Lakes Valley Conference and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Midwest Region. However, it is the undefeated conference record that is a mark of great pride for her. "We play in one of the best conferences in the country," Gillespie said. "Every night, we get our opponents' best shot. When Jamie Johnson got hurt, our season could have gone in a very different direction. Our players came together and decided we still could accomplish any goal we set."
Johnson, a guard who is playing a graduate season after taking a redshirt in 2012-13, was leading the Flyers in scoring after their first six games when she suffered a season-ending ACL injury in her knee. Gillespie is happy to get her scoring and leadership back as the team moves into the new season. "Jamie embodies everything you want in a player," Gillespie said. "She is a fierce competitor, great leader and is the hardest worker that I have ever been around. She is one of the best players in the country and makes everyone else around her better."
Getting her back will help the team replace the scoring from forward Mariyah Brawner-Henley, who graduated after leading the team in scoring with 624 points (20.1 points per game; Johnson actually still led the Flyers in scoring average, at 22.2 points per game). She's now playing professionally after signing a contract to play for Aabyhoj in Denmark. Gillespie said a player like her will be hard to replace. "Mariyah was definitely a special player for our program," Gillespie said. "She will go down as one of the all-time best in Lewis women’s basketball history. I think we will miss her rebounding the most. She is the type of player that you can’t replace with just one person. Our entire team will have to step up and rebound as a committee." Brawner-Henley averaged 11.8 rebounds per game last season, more than five per game more than the next highest player.
That strong Flyers season earned the team a 2-seed in the Division 2 NCAA Tournament. However, the Flyers were bitten by March Madness, losing in the first round in a narrow upset to the 7-seed Great Valley State University, 72-70. The Flyers finished the season ranked sixth despite the first-round loss and are highly ranked once again, going into the season ranked 15th. But rankings don't factor into Gillespie's goals for the season.
"Our goal is the same every year," Gillespie said. "We will commit every single day to getting better on and off the court. With this mentality, we are confident that we will be pleased with the results at the end of the season."