Lady Blues earn early season success

Dribble dash down Megan Lassley, Washburn senior guard, takes the ball across the basketball court. So far this year, the Lady Blues have had a successful season with a 9-3 record overall.

Rob Burkett / Washburn Review

While the game itself never  changes each season, no matter the sport, is an exploration in a team’s self and who they are. For the 2011-12 Washburn University Lady Blues basketball team, the journey has been underway.

With a team that had to overcome the adversity of losing players to injury and replacing a significant portion of the starting lineup a year ago, last year’s team matured and had a successful season. The benefits from that process coming into this year have been a blessing and a curse according to Ron McHenry, head coach.

“With last year’s team we had a lot of people that knew their roles,” said McHenry. “This year we have so much depth and strength that sometimes we just aren’t sure who needs to be leading in a given situation. We are learning a lot about ourselves right now. It’s just unfortunate we have to learn those things through losses.”

The team started out the season soaking up the sun in California and taking down the field in the Disney’s Division II Tip-Off West Coast Classic. Led by early efforts from junior forward Sierra Moeller’s rebounding, senior guard Ebonie Williams’s scoring and senior center Cassie Lombardino’s patrolling the defensive paint, the Lady Blues were able to win by an average of 25 points per game on their way to the tournament title.

After coming back from the gold coast, Washburn then headed west again, this time to the “Little Apple” of Manhattan, Kan., to take on the Lady Wildcats of Kansas State University. Despite K-State being a major Division I program, Washburn gave a strong showing, showing that they could play with anyone put in front of them. Despite a hard fought game, the Lady Blues came up just short 52-50.

“We played them really hard and lost on a last second miss,” said Moeller. “Even though we lost, it built a lot of confidence for us knowing that we can play with anyone that we take the court against.”

Moving forward, Washburn took on a couple lower division opponents from the NAIA level. The game against Tabor College (Kan.) in particular highlighted just how deep and talented the Lady Blues are this season, as the team scored a whopping 111 points while only surrendering 19 under a suffocating defensive effort.

In winning the game, Washburn set school records in securing a 92 point margin victory, while racking up the third most points in the history of the school. The mere 19 points surrendered in the game was the second lowest amount in the history of the school since 1973, when the Lady Blues held Marymount University to 15 points.

After playing those two teams, Washburn traveled south to the Lone Star state to play in the Midwestern State Comfort Inn/Ashbrook Classic. The Blues took down their opening round opponent East Central University by a healthy margin, 72-56, behind the scoring efforts of Williams, senior guard Stevi Schultz and junior forward Laura McMullin, with 13, 10 and 10 points, respectively.

Washburn once again ran into trouble in the following game. Against Midwestern State University, the Lady Blues seemed unable to keep the ball in their possession, turning the ball over 24 times while struggling from the floor, shooting just 40 percent overall and 18 percent from beyond the arc. The charity stripe would also be an unkind friend as the team shot 58 percent from the free throw line. Unable to overcome the miscues, Washburn dropped the game 68-53 for the first non-exhibition loss of the year.

After coming back from Texas, Washburn traveled to Drury University where the team, still struggling to get wins on the road since California dropped another game, losing in a closely-fought battle, 53-48.

“We just had these two games where we turned the ball over quickly and it hurt us,” said McHenry. “They were good teams, but when you turn the ball over like we did, it’s hard to win.”

The Lady Blues got back to form, however, returning home to take on Evangel University (Mo.). Washburn improved their performance behind the performance of Moeller, who scored a season-high 16 points in the game. Three other Lady Blues scored in double figures as Washburn built a 20-point halftime lead, before building it to 30 in the second half.

After the brief home stand, the team then hit the road to take on familiar faces at Northwest Missouri State University and Fort Hays State University. In the game against the Lady Bearcats, Washburn used a leading performance from Lombardino, who scored a season-high 18 points to put away NWMSU, 71-53. In the game against the Lady Tigers, the game proved to be a measure of the resilience of the Lady Blues, as they used an explosive second half, shooting 50 percent from the floor while holding FHSU to 27 percent from the floor, to take the win. With timely shooting from junior guard Laura Kinderknecht, who scored a career-high 11 points, while Schultz put up a career-high 13 rebound night, Washburn escaped Hays with a 67-60 win.

After coming home, Washburn fell victim to the upset bug as visiting Truman State University hit a last second jumper to win 68-66. The game was another reminder that Washburn, one of the top teams in the MIAA conference, will have to continue to prepare for opponents’ best shot every night.

“They played really hard against us,” said Moeller. “It just seems like every team is giving us their best shot no matter who we are playing. It’s a tough conference, so you have to expect that, but it’s just a tough loss.”

Going forward, Washburn now takes a week off while finals week sets in and exams take precedence. The team will then face off during the winter break against a slate of conference opponents that will feature teams like the No. 22-ranked University of Central Missouri on the road and rival “Turnpike Tussle” opponent Emporia State University at home.

The break, however, will not just be an opportunity for the team to concentrate on basketball and take care of business on the court. The team looks forward to spending more time with each other and becoming a more tight knit group.

“We’ll have a Christmas dinner for the team over at my place,” said McHenry. “It’ll be one of those things where the team will get to give each other some of those silly type of gifts and enjoy being together.”

The Lady Blues take on Missouri Western State University at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 in Lee Arena.