Large senior class ‘hungry,’ well-equipped for deep postseason run

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Large senior class ‘hungry,’ well-equipped for deep postseason run

Photo by Brian Georgeson

Photo by Brian Georgeson

Photo by Brian Georgeson

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It’s no secret that expectations are high for head coach Carolyn Kieger’s original recruiting class at Marquette.

“We’ve been saying for the last two years now that we want to take this program farther than it’s ever been,” Kieger said. “And the farthest we’ve been is the second round.”

Now with the team’s five players to regularly start in the class — Allazia Blockton, Natisha Hiedeman, Danielle King, Amani Wilborn and Erika Davenport — entering their senior year, Kieger has one more chance to accomplish that goal with them, and the goal is obvious.

“We definitely want to be playing in the Sweet 16,” Kieger said. “That’s a huge goal for our team.”

The program is arguably as well prepared for a Sweet 16 berth as ever. The Golden Eagles are coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, a first since the team’s four consecutive appearances 1997-2000.

During her run, Blockton became the first Marquette women’s basketball player to earn All-America honors in consecutive seasons and the third player to receive All-America honors in program history.

The five seniors have played in a combined 478 games in Marquette uniforms, including 383 starts. In their first three seasons, the Class of 2019 accounted for 81 percent of the team’s scoring. Sandra Dahling is also in the class without as prominent of a role. Dahling has played in 53 games and made one start.

The unprecedented run inevitably leads to plenty of expectations, but Kieger said she is trying to alleviate that pressure.

“I’m trying to take the pressure off them as much as I can,” Kieger said. “I want them to enjoy it. It’s their last run. They got a phenomenal opportunity, but also this is their last chance to play with their sisters.”

Kieger is not shying away from unconventional methods to help the team meet expectations. In past years, the offseason focus has been in the weight room, but now Kieger said she is exploring “ways to impact our performance other than ‘going harder every day.’”

“We’ve done a fantastic job the last three years of player development and getting strong in the weight room,” Kieger said. “Now we need another edge. Now we need something to give us that push when it is overtime versus Notre Dame or Tennessee.”

The team has expanded its player development strategy to include sleep, nutrition and mental exercises. Kieger described it as “imagery stuff.”

Players are also assigned to read chapters of  The Mental Game of Basketball by Brian King to prepare the team to be mentally tough enough for an overtime game against a top-tier team.

“We all come together as a group and give our feedback on (the chapter),” Blockton said. “It’s been helping us a lot with our mental side.” 

The team did an analytical breakdown of last season’s games. Every shot from 2017-’18 was under review, helping the coaching staff diagnose the team’s perimeter woes.

“It wasn’t necessarily that we’re not shooting the ball well,” Kieger said. “It’s the shots that we’re shooting.”

And the players were quick to buy into the results of the data.

“It’s no question that we’re really good in transition,” Blockton said. “When we have a paint touch and then kick it out, we’re really good in those, so we’re trying to hone in in practice on getting those shots.”

Kieger said it is all part of “focusing on the process.”

“Are we getting better every day?” Kieger said. “Then that goal doesn’t seem so daunting.”

Blockton and the rest of the senior class have the benefit of a stronger cast around the team than past years. The team lost Shantelle Valentine to graduation and Myriama Smith Traore to transfer, but Valentine and Smith Traore had limited roles. They combined to play 16.5 minutes per game in 2017-’18.

“We’re deeper than we’ve ever been,” Kieger said. “We have a lot of different rotations we can put in. … You’ll see a different team from us on the defensive end.”

Meanwhile, the team added freshman Chloe Marotta and New Mexico Junior College transfer Amanda Maqueia.

“It would be hard for any new person to come in because we’re not slowing down, obviously, with our senior class,” Kieger said. “When we watch practice, you can barely tell (Chloe) is a freshman, and that’s the biggest compliment I can give her right now.”

With Blockton’s senior season looming two weeks away, there is a sense of urgency. The team has to win this year.

“We have a lot of hungry people,” Blockton said. “We know it’s our senior year, so we have to go out with a bang.”

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