As of Feb. 5, the North Central College women’s basketball team is leading Division III in points per game at 94.7, with an overall record of 20-2. The 2014-2015 season has seen one of its hottest starts in decades as the Lady Cardinals look forward to the back half of their season.
The North Central women’s basketball team, under coach Michelle Roof, has adopted what is widely referred to as the “Grinnell System.” This system emphasizes an up-tempo style of play that relies heavily on the three-point field goal along with a full-court press defense to create open shots. To keep this high tempo going throughout the game, the team will substitute five players at a time, keeping the players fresh when they come on the court.
Because of this high scoring offense, some players have been influenced to transfer to North Central. These players include some of the most dominant on the team, such as sophomore-forward Jamie Cuny, who leads the team in rebounds at eight rebounds per game, and 3.5 blocked shots per game.
Senior Tess Godhardt leads the team in scoring 17.3 points per game and has two College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Player of the Week awards so far this season.
After finishing 11-14 in the 2013-2014 season, the players have embraced the fast-paced system and take pride in how they play offensively.
“The energy and the attitude of each individual player has definitely been the difference. Nobody doubts this team’s ability. We all have faith in each other and we know what we can do,” said Godhardt.
If you have been to a North Central women’s basketball game, you have noticed the unorthodox five-player substitutions that the team is doing, almost every 60 seconds. While some players may not like this because they don’t get the minutes they like, the Lady Cardinals have embraced these swaps and use them to their advantage.
“The type of defense and offense we are running makes it very hard to stay in the game any longer than minute and a half. When you’re out there, you are pushing yourself to go as fast as you can and as hard as you can every second. Without our substitutions, we wouldn’t be able to push the ball as fast up the court or trap as quickly as we do. It’s such a exhausting type of system and you have to be fresh in order to run it correctly,” said Godhardt.
The Cardinals value some of their high-energy players such as Emily Zgoda, who has made 42 three-pointers on the season, Bobbi Johns who has 35 steals on the season, and Paula Zerante who you will see constantly sprinting up and down the court. These players are extremely important to the Cardinal’s success because they play to the system, according to Coach Roof.
“Based on our style, the players understand what their expectations are, and it’s nice for them because they get to play as hard as they want to be able to play because they know they are going to get a break afterwards,” said Roof. “These players do all intangibles like run as fast as they can every possession and scramble on defense picking up rebounds when they need to.”
In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors average the most three-pointers made per game at 10.5. This season the Cardinals are averaging 14.9 three-pointers made per game, which has proven to be a pivotal piece to the North Central’s offense.
“We shoot every single day in practice,” said Godhardt. “We always have a three-point drill going on at some point. Every day after practice, you’ll find about three or four players still hanging back to shoot some more. They’re committed to being great three point shooters and they know that our offense depends on it. They aren’t letting us down either.”
Although this high-scoring offense has been dominant over most of their competition, both of their two losses have come from CCIW opponent Wheaton College.
The Cardinals look to improve on their weaknesses so they can compete with teams like Wheaton when the playoffs arrive. North Central’s goals are to emphasize boxing out and controlling the lane, according to Godhardt.
“Boxing out and defensive rebounding are the biggest challenges we face right now. We need to really work on pushing the bigger players out of the paint, because that’s where a lot of the other team’s points are coming from right now. If we can get that straightened out, I think we give ourselves some more room for mistakes,” says Godhardt.
“For us that’s really what we look for (is) a mentality of players that outwork their opponents and contribute on every play,” said Roof. “We focus on playing the best basketball we can every night and who knows what our limit is, but we put our emphasis on game-to-game playing the best we can each night out.”