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Leaving rings in the past

The+women%E2%80%99s+basketball+team+celebrating+their+regular+season+Summit+League+championship+last+year.
The women’s basketball team celebrating their regular season Summit League championship last year.

The women’s basketball team celebrating their regular season Summit League championship last year.

File Photo

File Photo

The women’s basketball team celebrating their regular season Summit League championship last year.

Mat McClanahan, Sports editor

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Finally, it is basketball season at Western Illinois University, and the defending Summit League champions have officially taken the court once again. The women’s Leatherneck basketball team already has a 30-point win under their belt against the Quincy University Hawks from their Nov. 2 game, but there will be plenty more victories this season.

“In the back of our minds, from what we accomplished last year, we do have some goals. Just like every other team, we hope to win the conference and make the NCAA tournament, which are really lofty goals in general,” head coach JD Gravina said. “We are really focused on the process and what we are doing in practice, right now we are just focused on those first early games.”

Those early games, however, should not be a test for this experienced team. The Leathernecks’ schedule does not have them playing a worthy opponent until their fourth and fifth games, when they play in-state foes Northern Illinois University Huskies and the idolized University of Illinois Fighting Illini.

Last year, the Leathernecks dominated the state of Illinois in women’s basketball. Western handled the Huskies 83-79 early last year, edged out Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville by two 76-74, out shot the Bradley University Braves 91-77, smoked the Eastern Illinois University Panthers 83-62, and the sweetest of all, they blew out the Illinois State University Redbirds 80-50.

Other than playing state schools in Illinois, the Leathernecks have boosted their competition level. This season, Western put the University of Illinois, Stanford University Cardinals and Gonzaga University Bulldogs on the schedule.

“We have to solidify our program and show last year wasn’t just a fluke, whether that be making it to the NCAA Tournament or advancing in any postseason tournament would be huge,” Gravina said. “Two years ago we advanced in the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) and I think that was a good first step that kind of set the tone for last year. If you look at our schedule, we’re playing Stanford, who is a Final Four team, Gonzaga who’s an NCAA (tournament) team, Illinois, Wichita State (University) and not to mention the schools in our conference that are all really good.”

The 2017-2018 season is going to look a lot like last years team, except the Leathernecks are going to add the Fighting Illini to their resume.

In the offseason, Western only lost two seniors, guard Mallory Boyle and forward Jasmine Patrick. Both alumni played a big part in Western’s success last season, but that will not hold them back. Even though the Leathernecks lost two leaders on their squad, the team has brought in two stud athletes; 5-foot-10 freshman guard Danni Nichols, who averaged over 16 points per game and was a 5A all-state athlete at David H. Hickman in 2017, they also signed 5-foot-10 freshman guard Grace Gilmore. Gilmore did not achieve the same accolades as her counter part Nichols, but she knows how to win. Gilmore led her team to the state semi-finals in 2017, she will be ready for the biggest stage come March.

With everything the Leathernecks have coming back for them, they are still ranked number two behind the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits in the Summit League preseason poll. Western received 12 first-place votes and SDSU received 16, which gave them the edge.

Senior guards Emily Clemens and Morgan Blumer also found their way on the preseason all-conference list team, accompanied by three other Jackrabbits. Western’s junior guard Taylor Higginbotham surfaced on the preseason second team all conference squad after a solid sophomore outing.

Watch for Western to start their run at the Summit League Title once again tonight against the University of Missouri Kansas City Kangaroos tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Twitter: @MacIsland13

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Leaving rings in the past