Bison women's basketball coach Jory Collins says reshaped team will 'play faster' than recent seasons
The NDSU women's basketball team has eight newcomers on the roster from a season ago with the regular season set to start.
FARGO — More than half the players on the North Dakota State women's basketball team didn't play for the Bison last season, and that excites head coach Jory Collins.
NDSU has eight newcomers — four transfer players and four incoming freshmen — with the season opener slated for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, at the University of Montana.
"It’s like getting a Christmas present and you have a whole bunch of them at one time," Collins said. "We’re still learning some of what our new players can do and they surprise you here and there with their ability.”
The Bison are coming off an 11-18 record last season and lost eight players off that team, including multiple players to the transfer portal. Collins likes the additions NDSU made in reshaping the roster.
“It was hard to make those changes, but it was also necessary and we feel like we’re in a good spot now," Collins said.
The Bison return experience in the backcourt. Senior guard Heaven Hamling and junior guard Abby Schulte both averaged at least 26 minutes per game last season for NDSU. The 5-foot-8 Hamling averaged a team-high 14.1 points per game a season ago, while the 5-foot-10 Schulte averaged 7.1 points per game.
Hamling said it hasn't been difficult developing chemistry with the newcomers.
“Everyone in that locker room loves the game of basketball and they just want to do whatever it takes to win," Hamling said. “We’re getting better every single day. We’re all meshing because we all have that one singular goal that we want to reach.”
Collins expects graduate transfer Taylor Brown, who played at American University last season, and sophomore Abbie Draper, a Bradley transfer, to be immediate contributors. The 6-foot-1 Brown played nearly 100 games (including 50 starts) at American. The 6-foot-2 Draper made 15 starts for Bradley last season.
Freshmen Leah Mackenzie, Abby Graham and Elle Evans are also expected to get playing time early in their college careers. Evans is a 6-foot-3 guard from Edwardsville, Ill.
“They’re all going to get minutes for us early and deservedly so," Collins said. “They’ve all had some moments. I’m excited to see them when the lights are on.”
While a program veteran, Collins added junior Emily Behnke is going to have the look of newcomer with her offseason development. The 6-foot-2 Behnke averaged 3.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last season in 12.8 minutes per contest.
“You’re going to watch Emily Behnke play and forget that she’s been here the last three years," Collins said. “She is playing with confidence and she looks like a racehorse out there. She’s flying around and playing to her athleticism.”
Collins said an international trip to Greece in the summer — that included 10 practices and two games — proved invaluable in helping develop chemistry.
“We had the extra time in the summer with our international trip to Greece and playing there," Collins said. "Those extra 10 practices made a big difference for us.”
Collins likes the height and athleticism that was added in the offseason. He said there are seven players coaches feel comfortable starting with the regular season on the horizon. He expects the rotation to be around 10 players.
“It will be pretty good and fun to watch this year," Hamling said. “There are so many different ways we can score with that height and that athleticism.”
NDSU was picked to finish fifth in the Summit League in the preseason coaches' poll with perennial power South Dakota State the conference favorite. Hamling has higher aspirations with the goal of a top-3 finish in the Summit.
“I always want to be at the top of the Summit League and win the Summit League," Hamling said. “We’re all grinding for that every single day.”
Collins said the team will play a different style than in his previous three seasons as NDSU's head coach.
“This team will play faster than we’ve ever played," Collins said. "We have some athletes that can really run, especially in our big group, our guards have always been pretty good.”