Butler women’s basketball blends experience, new faces in upcoming season

Michelle Weaver dribbles the ball. Collegian file photo.

CHRIS BROWN | STAFF REPORTER | cbbrown@butler.edu

The beginning of the season is fast approaching, and Butler women’s basketball players are hard at work, taking extra shots and doing extra drills after practice with the help of coaches.

While the preparation continues, fourth-year head coach Kurt Godlevske said he feels confident his team is even more prepared than in years past.

“This is the first year where I’ve gotten into week three [of practice] and said we can play a game today and I think be very successful,” Godlevske said. “Everything that we’ve done since week three here for the last few weeks is just fine-tuning, and adding more and more wrinkles which, at this time two years ago, I couldn’t have said.”

The Bulldogs are looking to rebound from a disappointing season after posting a 6-25 record. The team finished at the bottom of the Big East at 2-16.

Injuries plagued the team all last season, including a torn ACL which sidelined then-freshman guard Kristen Spolyar for the final 15 games.

“When you go through things like that, through that adversity, it kind of shook us as far as our confidence goes,” Godlevske said. “And then losing Kristen in January, I think really affected last year’s outcome.”

Before going down last season, Spolyar was named Big East Freshman of the Week twice and averaged 12.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, second on the team.

“She brings so many different things to the table, from her strength, her explosiveness attacking the basket,” Godlevske said. “She creates opportunities that make things easier for her teammates, and she really is a very good teammate. When she does those things on the floor it raises our level of play.”

Spolyar is expected to be back at full strength within the next month or so, Godlevske said.

The team did end the season on a positive note with a 68-66 upset over Xavier University in the first round of the Big East tournament before falling to Creighton University in the semifinal game.

Senior guard Sydney Buck, a team captain who missed 11 games with an ankle injury and averaged 8.8 points per game last season, said that the tournament win was key for the team.

“I think that built some momentum going into the offseason, and I think we’ve kind of carried that over,” Buck said. “That’s probably one of the biggest takeaways [from last season], that we can compete in the conference and beat one of those top two or three teams.”

A preseason poll of Big East coaches projected Butler to finish eighth out of the conference’s 10 teams.

Low preseason expectations are nothing new for Godlevske’s team, but with 95 percent of the team’s scoring returning and the addition of new players and coaches, the Bulldogs believe they have the pieces to be successful this season.

Godlevske has an entirely new staff behind him. John Marcum, Kierra McCleary and Gabe Henry were all hired as assistant coaches during the offseason.

Godlevske said the process of integrating the coaching staff has been smooth.

“Largely, [it’s] because I hired people who had similar philosophies to me, or additions who could offer something that maybe I didn’t think that I could bring,” Godlevske said. “They each add their own little piece, and their own little flair to our program.

Junior forward Tori Schickel, whose 364 rebounds last season broke the Butler school record for a single season, said adjusting to a new coaching staff has taken some getting used to, but that the transition has gone well.

“They make us uncomfortable and they push us to points that we haven’t been before,” Schickel, who was named to the All-Big East Second Team last season, said. “But I think that’s really good for us, because it’s pushing us in the direction we need to be. [They’re] pushing us to make that extra effort and pushing us [to] stay after practice and shooting and doing those types of things. They’re with us. We’re all one team, and they’re a part of that.”

The team is also welcoming multiple transfers. Katherine Strong (Virginia Commonwealth University), Ashanti Thomas (Penn State University), and Naira Caceres (University of Maine) will all sit out the season due to transfer rules.

However, Whitney Jennings,  junior guard and University of Iowa transfer, will be eligible to play after redshirting last season. Jennings, a former Indiana Miss Basketball recipient in high school, averaged 9.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in her sophomore season at Iowa.

Iman Lathan, graduate student and guard who comes to Butler from California State University – Fullerton, will also be eligible to play this season.

Godlevske and Buck said what makes this season different is the experience returning to the roster, something Buck, the team’s longest-tenured player, has not seen in past years.

“My last couple of years, we’ve definitely been younger,” Buck said. “But now we have a lot more experience. I think the scoring part of our game will be good. We’re just going to have to lock down on defense and get some stops.”

Returning members of the team’s core include Buck, Schickel, Spolyar, junior guard Michelle Weaver and sophomore guard Sydney Shelton.

“Our whole dynamic has changed on this team,” Schickel said. “We’re definitely coming into the season a little more positive, a little more upbeat. Last year, we did some things OK, and individually we were all-right, but I think this year we’re building up as a team, which is really important for us.”

The team will open the 2017-18 season in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Nov. 11 against Austin Peay.

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