Freshman ready to leave their mark on Leatherneck hoops

Bradley Piros, Assistant Sports Editor

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It’s no secret that the Western Illinois women’s basketball team lost some major talent last season. The Leathernecks had six seniors graduate and leave the team, four of them being reliable starters.

You may have heard these names before: Emily Clemens, Olivia Braun, Morgan Blumer, Taylor Hanneman, Michelle Farrow and Krishna Merriman. Those are the six women that Western won’t be able to rely on this year. Of those six, the four starters were Clemens, Braun, Blumer and Farrow.

To make up for those major losses, head coach JD Gravina recruited six new freshman to join his squad. Danni Nichols, Payton Courier, Elizabeth Lutz, Carla Flores Garcia, Mackenzie Rogers and Jinda Guidinger all look to keep this team alive and lead them back to the success that was last season.

So, let’s breakdown the loses and compare them to the new additions that hope to rebuild this team.

Let’s start off with the most notable graduates. Leading things off is Emily Clemens, averaging 18 points and 36 minutes a game last season, she was the team’s leading scorer. She ended her collegiate career having played 127 games, starting 99 of those. She had a .447 field goal percentage and went for .304 from beyond the arc. She made 41 three’s last season on 135 attempts.

Next up is Olivia Braun. She only played two season for Western but still played 65 games for the Purple and Gold and started 61 of them. She might have only averaged 6.8 points per game last season, but she made up for it on defense. Going for 72 blocks and 42 steals last year, she was a key player in locking the other teams down.

That leads us to Morgan Blumer. She also only played two seasons with the Leathernecks, starting 64 out of her 65 games played. She ended with a perfect 2,000 minutes played and averaged 31 a night. She averaged 14 points a game with a .448 field goal percentage and went for .364 from the three, the best on the team.

That leaves us with our fourth and final starter that Western lost, Michele Farrow. She was a four-year player, appearing in 126 games, starting only 47 of them, mainly in her senior year. She averaged 27 minutes and 8 points a night and really shined in her rebounding ability, especially on defense. She grabbed 76 defensive boards and 95 overall and finished the season with 35 assists.

You also had the likes of Hanneman and Merriman for depth. Hanneman appeared in 11 games, starting only two of them. She averaged 10 points and 19 points a game. Merriman only played her senior year, making 31 appearances, but never getting the start. Whenever she went in though, she was a force defensively having nine blocks and 10 steals.

That leads us into our incoming freshman. Western lost six seniors but added six freshman to “rebuild” the team. Three of them made their colligate debuts in the opening season exhibition game against Truman State, which Western won 92-86, so let’s start with them.

None of them made the start, but a few of them did get some minutes. Guard Elizabeth Lutz from California, Mo scored a school record 1,905 over four years. She also beat the record for most three’s made with 250 and tallied 10 in one game to grab that record as well. I think she will be a great fit to replace Blumer at the three-point line.

She played 18 minutes in the Truman State game and tallied seven points. She made three field goals as well as a three pointer to help the team get the win. She went 2-5 on field goals and was 1-3 from behind the arc. Not terrible numbers to shake of the jitters of your first college game.

Also seeing time on the court was Danni Nichols. She subbed in for eight minutes and went a perfect 1-1 scoring two points. She comes from Columbia, Mo averaging 16.2 points, 4.2 rebounds. 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals a game for Hickman Highschool. She also lettered in golf as well as track, being a year-round athlete.

Moving on, Jinda Guidinger was the only other freshman to touch the court for Western but was unable to put any points on the board. She was able to grab three boards but didn’t cash in on her two shots taken. She is from Pewaukee, Wis. And was a two-time First Team All Woodland Conference honoree and All-Metro Honorable mention for her high school.

Next up is a four-sport athlete in Payton Courier. She lettered in basketball and volleyball all four years. She started off playing soccer and volleyball for Big Foot High School in Walworth Wis. but decided to pursue a college career in basketball.

That brings us to the only international recruit in Carla Flores Garcia from Barcelona, Spain. She attended Mare de deu de la Salut and played three seasons of club basketball for State of Cataluña. Her biggest achievement though was playing for the Spain National Team and winning the gold medal at the U16 European Championships.

Last but not least is Mackenzie Rogers from Mediapolis, Iowa. She played her first three high school seasons for her coach as well as her dad Todd Rogers. She played her fourth year but under a different coach, not slowing her down at all though. She made First Team All-Conference all four years. She also holds records for her high school in most points in a game (46), most three-pointers made in a game (9), most assists in a game (15), most points in one season (528 in 23 games) and most assists in one season (200 in 26 games.)

All of these women have had success for her high school, many of them playing multiple sports and being in the best shape of their lives. Some of them hold school records while others are winning gold medals.

Without a doubt, coach Gravina has some talent coming off the bench and fighting for starting positions going forward, and only time will tell if they can turn their past achievements into success for their new Western Illinois team.

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