After a 33-day layoff, it's time for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm women's basketball team to shake off the rust.
Riding a three-game winning streak, SWIC (6-1) will begin its quest that it hopes will end in a third straight trip to the NJCAA Division I Tournament today at Lakeland College. Certainly, that is the goal anyway.
"I think that's a big part of it. We've been to the national finals the last two years. Our girls have gotten a taste of the success and they want to keep the streak going,'' Blue Storm coach Mike Juenger said. "We are everybody's big game. Everybody wants to beat SWIC because of what we've accomplished the last two years. We've got to be ready to play 40 minutes every night.''
Led by the brilliance of sophomore point guard LaTeesha Deloach, the inside strength of Breana Baker and offensive firepower of freshman Laura Litchfield, SWIC hasn't missed a proverbial beat in getting off to a quick start this season.
However, the long layoff has given Juenger something to think about.
"I'm a little concerned about the long layoff. We just need to play and continue to build on what we did during the first half of the year,'' Juenger said. "'T' (Deloach) has been just great. She's leading our team in scoring (14 points a game) and doing everything we ask as far as getting other players involved. Laura (Litchfield) can flat out score and is a big time talent.
"We need to get 'Bre' (Baker) going a little bit better. She's a force inside and on the boards. She's got a lot of big time Division I schools calling about her.''
Juenger also said he has high hopes for sophomore Mone'y Black, Brea Gegg and Sorriyah Ranger along with freshmen sharpshooter Taylor Poindexter, freshman post player Samantha Smith and freshmen sparkplug Paige Buechle.
"Mone'y Black is a huge key for this team because she can do so many things on the basketball court," Juenger said. "And Taylor (Poindexter) can also have a big role because she's a great shooter. She just needs to get in shape.''
Like the cavalry charging in an old western movie, reinforcements are also on the way for SWIC.
Out two years with various knee injuries, freshman Asia Nichols will make her SWIC debut against Lakeland while former Belleville West all-state guard Erika McCaster is expected to make her Blue Storm debut on Saturday when the Blue Storm hosts always tough Lincoln Trail at 1 p.m.
Nichols' story is a remarkable one. A former two-time all-state selection at Louisville Eastern High School, Nichols missed the second half of her senior year with a torn ACL and she has been sidelined for the last 18 months at SWIC with various leg and knee woes.
Juenger said he is happy to have the two players coming onto the Blue Storm roster.
"Asia is excited and we're excited for her. Her big thing is not to expect too much too soon,'' Juenger said. "The girl can flat out shoot the basketball.''
As can McCaster, who was one of the top all-around players in the state during her final two years as a standout talent at Belleville West.
"I don't know if I've had a player who can score like Erika. I'm not putting her in the same class with (all-Americans) Jaynetta Sanders or Janelle Cannon. But she's fast, she's a great shooter and she can take the ball to the basket,'' Juenger said about McCaster. "If we stay healthy and because the girls on this team like each other so well, I think we could be a lot of fun to watch during the second half of the season."
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org