After back-to-back dismal seasons, there might finally be light at the end of the tunnel for the Southwestern Illinois College women’s basketball team.
Thanks in a large part to the emergence of freshman center Zaria Valle and the return of freshman guard Alicia Book from injury, SWIC entered its annual midseason, monthlong semester break last week with a crushing 97-51 loss to Wabash Valley College.
The loss dropped SWIC to 4-5 for the season, and while veteran SWIC coach Mike Juenger isn’t thrilled with five losses in the first half of the season, the Blue Storm is much better off at this stage of the season than it was a year ago. SWIC finished a dismal 3-25 and missed qualifying for the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 24 playoffs for the first time in two decades. SWIC went 7-23 but made the playoffs two seasons ago.
“We lost to Lewis and Clark (College). Then we lost to Lincoln Trail. We could have won both of those games and been 6-3 at the break,” Juenger said. “But to be at 4-5 with 11 freshmen on the team, that’s not bad. We open with Shawnee and Lewis and Clark when we get back so we have a chance to get off to a good start.
“We’ve got girls who are working hard and getting better as we go along here. We’re much better off now than we have been at this point the last two years.
Book was a key member of the Central Cougars team that placed second in the Class 2A state finals two years ago. But she missed an entire season after suffering an ankle injury in preseason drills prior to her senior year. She then missed the first seven games of this year after having the screws removed from her surgically-repaired ankle.
“After missing the last one-and-a-half years, Alicia just needs to play. Zaria (Valle), a player I think could be a big-time prospect, needs to play,” Juenger said. “We also need to work on being more consistent.
“The other night when we lost to Wabash Valley, we had 34 turnovers against one of the top teams in the nation. But after one quarter we were only down 25-18. We were right there. Then at halftime, we are down 50-21. That’s the thing with these girls. We’re just so inconsistent. We play well for a while then we struggle.”