College Sports

McKendree women’s basketball team seeks more progress under Kerkhoff

A reversal of its 12-17 record of last season might be a bit much to ask from the McKendree University women’s basketball team.

But with a solid recruiting class and some key returning players still in the mix, the Bearcats are ready to keep making strides under second-year coach Kari Kerkhoff.

“I would absolutely love that,” Kerkhoff said. “The big part of flipping that record around is (improving) consistency. When you’re playing a lot of young players, that’s going to be the tough part. I do think it’s possible, but at the same time, the GLVC (Great Lakes Valley Conference) is not an easy conference, especially on our side of the division.”

McKendree, which qualified for the GLVC Tournament last season, plays in the East Division with Bellarmine, the preseason pick to win the division title, and defending division champion Lewis. St. Joseph’s and Southern Indiana also are formidable, and Indianapolis has been a power in recent years.

“We have to show up consistently every night,” said Kerkhoff, whose team in the preseason poll was selected to finish sixth in the eight-team division and 11th in the 16-team league. “We need to be ready, no matter what.”

Defensive rebounding is always going to be our staple, especially early on here in developing our program. At the offensive end, it’s the outside shooting and the transition game. If we can make that our bread and butter, we’ll be a lot more successful throughout the conference.

McKendree University women’s basketball coach Kari Kerkhoff

The Bearcats will play their lone exhibition game at 1 p.m. Saturday in Lebanon against “Livin’ The Dream,” a team of former Division I and Division II players, some of whom have professional experience.

The regular season begins at 4 p.m. Nov. 11 against Hillsdale College in the GLVC/GLIAC Crossover Tournament in Hillsdale, Mich. The tournament concludes at 3 p.m. Nov. 12 when McKendree plays Lake Superior State.

One of Kerkhoff’s primary goals is becoming “more efficient on the offensive end.” The Bearcats had no player average double figures in points last season.

“Defensive rebounding is always going to be our staple, especially early on here in developing our program,” she said. “At the offensive end, it’s the outside shooting and the transition game. If we can make that our bread and butter, we’ll be a lot more successful throughout the conference.

“We laid a good foundation (last year) for what we expect for our program. Now it’s just a mater of us continuing to build off that. If we can have a more balanced offensive attack, that would be a huge benefit for us.”

The roster

McKendree’s top returning players are 5-foot-10 senior Shannon McGinnis, 6-0 senior twins Ellie and Emily Pusheck, 5-10 senior Amber Alexander, 5-9 junior Halle DeVoe and 5-10 sophomore Jordan Morton. Ellie Pusheck led the Bearcats in scoring at 8.2 points per game.

Emily Pusheck averaged 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds, while Morton averaged 6.2 points and 5.9 rebounds and McGinnis averaged 4.4 points. Alexander averaged 4.1 points and is the Bearcats’ top returning threat from beyond the 3-point line.

Kerkhoff said McGinnis, who has always looked to pass first, has become more offensive-minded. It hasn’t been an easy transition.

“That’s a big hurdle we’ve finally jumped,” Kerkhoff said. “In practice, I see her taking the shots I want her to take and being a little more aggressive. She’s eager to get started.”

Incoming freshmen are 5-10 Madison Hart, 5-8 Andranae Wash, 5-11 Jordan Heberg, 6-0 Megan Jansen, 6-2 Shayli Florine and 5-11 Haley Ahr. Two of the freshmen likely will wind up in the starting lineup.

Wash, a point guard, scored 1,138 points in her career at Cardinal Ritter High in St. Louis. Florine, a center, finished with 1,268 points in her career at Galesburg High, and as a senior she averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field.

Heberg, a shooting guard, averaged 18 points as a senior at Plainfield North High in Romeoville and set a career scoring record with 1,393 points.

“The big ones right away that I’m going to lean on are Jordan Heberg and Shayli Florine,” Kerkhoff said. “And it would be great if we could tag-team them in and out. All of our freshmen come from winning programs, which is something we wanted.”

Kerkhoff said competition is ongoing in practice. Florine or Ellie Pusheck are vying to start at center, with Alexander and Wash battling for the point-guard spot. Morton and McGinnis have the inside track at the forward positions, with Heberg shining thus far at shooting guard.

Kerkhoff said the newcomers’ biggest preseason challenges have come at the defensive end.

“We’ve had some film sessions this week and they’re beginning to see on the film what we’re asking of them. That’s been a huge benefit,” Kerkhoff said. “We want to finish in the top one or two in the GLVC (on defense). Last year, we finished 15th in the nation for defensive scoring, and that’s our goal again. It’s going to give us a better chance to win.”

Two other players, senior Charley Lett and junior Abby Smith, could earn minutes off the bench and provide scoring punch. Shauniera Wilson, a 6-3 junior, also returns. Sara Karamol is a 5-9 junior who transferred from Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm