JD Gravina excited for new challenges ahead for 2020

Hayden Donaldson, Courier Staff

This year has presented new challenges for everyone, especially to those in the sports world, but WIU women’s basketball coach JD Gravina is looking forward to tackling those challenges. The women’s basketball team, after a long offseason, has recently been able to return to practice and Gravina is more than ready to get back to work.

“It definitely feels good. It’s amazing how much you realize how big a part of your life coaching is, and for our players, playing basketball. It almost felt like there’s a part of you missing when you weren’t able to coach your team.”

Practices have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Gravina said the team was unable to hold summer workouts and when preseason started, the team practiced in different groups. Masks are still required, but the practice has returned to normal for the most part. Gravina says that it is important for players to stay mentally strong.

“The hardest thing is mentally we’re testing every week now and so there’s always kind of that fear of if you test positive how will that affect us and so that’s been a little bit of a tough adjustment.”

The Leathernecks will also have to adjust to a new Summit League scheduling format. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams will no longer play home and away on different days, now they will play two games at one site on back to back days. “I’m looking at it as a new challenge, almost like a little bit of an NBA mentality on how you make adjustments from the first game to the second game,” said Gravina. “Are you going to play with your kids for as many minutes? Are they going to need a little more rest? If you get up or down are you going to think about resting kids for that next game? It’s going to be interesting. I like things that are hard because it makes you think a little more outside of the box,” he added.

Western is looking to improve off of a solid 2019 campaign where they finished 15-15 overall and 9-7 in the conference. However, the Leathernecks were unable to advance past the first round of The Summit League Tournament, losing 74-66 to Oral Roberts. The bright spot is that the team was very young and returns with another year of experience which Coach Gravina is excited for. “It’s nice to have some experience back. We have that really strong junior class, and we’ve got a couple of seniors with experience, especially Grace Gilmore and Sam Pryor, and then getting Kyra (Washington) back for another year.”

The team returns four starters from last season, but the loss of starting point guard Olivia Kauffman will be a large void to fill. “She was such a big part of everything we did and so even though we have a lot of quality returners when you lose a player like that, there’s a lot of roles that people need to be willing to step into,” said Gravina.

One person that Coach Gravina is looking to help fill that void is forward Evan Zars. Zars was the 2019 newcomer of the year in The Summit League after ranking second in the league in rebounds and blocking 47 shots. Gravina explained her importance to the team.

“Evan was a huge help defensively and on the boards last year. I think her offensive game is starting to come around. We’re really working on her being more aggressive offensively because I think she could definitely be a 15 plus point a night player.”

The women’s basketball season starts Nov. 25 as the Leathernecks look forward to a promising 2020 season.