Questions linger as SWIC opens season in tourney

Losing seasons don’t happen very often at Southwestern Illinois College and they certainly don’t sit very well with Blue Storm women’s basketball coach Mike Juenger.

And so following a difficult and losing 2014-15 season, Juenger and assistant coaches Robert Belleville and Rich Hubert have tried to address the situation doing what they do best — recruit, teach and coach.

SWIC opens its season on Friday in the Wabash Valley College Tournament against Three Rivers (Mo.) College with 10 freshmen and 11 players in all who have never played a minute of college basketball. Yet Juenger likes what he sees from what will be his youngest team.

“There will be growing pains with this group and will yes there will be times when they will test our patience. But the one thing I see already from this group is a willingness to come into practice every day, work hard and absorb what we’re telling them. Last year we had some academic issues and some of the girls didn’t want to come to practice,” Juenger said. “I’ve never had a team with 10 freshmen before. But if we continue to work hard and improve as the season goes on, I think we’ll be a good basketball team.”

This season is the 20th as the Blue Storm coach for Juenger, who is in his second full year as SWIC’s athletic director. Juenger has led SWIC to the NJCAA National Tournament five times and has recorded 376 victories in his previous 19 years.

Juenger’s 20th season begins with two players who played more than a few minutes a year ago. Sophomore guard Terru Dearth was a spot starter a year ago, while 5--foot-10 Alexus Brock, a Belleville East graduate also played well at times.

Two other sophomores are Olivia Thompson, of O’Fallon, and Brittney Zipfel, of Mascoutah. Zipfel, a 5-5 guard, was reshirted a year ago and has two years of eligibility with the Blue Storm remaining.

Leading the Blue Storm’s list of recruits are 6-1 twin sisters Mona and Marcia Samuel from Jennings High School in St. Louis along with guards Aubreeny Brady of Collinsville, Madisyn Sheraka from Roxana, Shelby Wells and forwards Taylor Oxford, of Bunker Hill, Kayla Moore from St. Louis and Analiese Osborne.

Brady appears to be a frontrunner for one of the starting guard spots. An All-Southwestern Conference player for the Kahoks, the super-quick Brady is an excellent passer and penetrates well to the basket.

“She has a chance to be one of the best guards we’ve had,” Juenger said. “Aubreeny comes from a good program at Collinsville. She moved well and has the abilty to be a great passer. But she can also penetrate and is very strong. I expect her to spend a lot of time at the foul line this year. She just needs to work on her perimeter shooting. If she does, I think she could be a (NCAA) Division I player.”

Sheraka averaged 22 points a year ago and is a terrific perimeter shooter. But along with players such as Oxford and Anisa Al-Bori, of New Athens, she needs to adjust to playing big-time junior college women’s basketball.

“Actually it’s an adjustment for all freshmen. In high school, they can score and do whatever they want to and then they get here where they are going up against players from Vincennes, John A. Logan College, Southeastern Illinois and Wabash Valley and the shots they got off in high school are being blocked or they’re not getting them off at all,” Juenger said. “They have to learn to adjust their games.”

Al-Bori is currently on the Blue Storm volleyball team and will join the basketball team when the volleyball season ends, Juenger said.

Another key for SWIC will be on the front line where the Samuel twins, Oxford (5-9), Moore (5-7) and Osborne (5-9) will be called upon for offense, defense and rebounding.

“We really don’t have much size and so we’re going to start out playing a lot of zone defense,” Juenger said. “The Samuel twins are big, strong girls who can run the floor and have good range. We’ve worked with them on post moves, such as the drop-step because we’re going to need them to be effective down low. Kayla (Moore) is one of the most athletic and quickest players I’ve coached. But its like with a lot of these kids, it’s going to take time.”

Former Belleville West tennis player Kayleigh Thurwalker will also see playing time this season. At 5-10, Thurwalker has a long reach and a nice shooting touch.

“But it will take time for her get used to playing basketball at a competitive level,” Juenger said.

In addition to its game with Three Rivers College, SWIC will also take on Parkland College on Saturday in the competitive Wabash Valley Tournament.

The Blue Storm opens their home season on Nov. 13 against Greenville College.

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean