While the UW-Parkside women’s basketball team underwent plenty of change in the past five months, first-year coach Jacob Yorg is focused on keeping many things the same.
Parkside enters a transitional season in perhaps the most unforgiving NCAA Division II conference with former coach Jenny Kenesie no longer on the sideline. Kenesie unexpectedly stepped down this summer following her 11th season after quickly transforming the program into a proven winner, a conference heavyweight and an NCAA Division II contender.
A team that averaged nearly 20 wins a season under Kenesie, Parkside was picked to finish fourth in the eight-team Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division.
“Every team is going to want to beat us,” said Yorg, whose team opens the season with an exhibition game at Loyola (Ill.) 2 p.m. Sunday. “We have a bull’s-eye. Everyone is going to say we’re down. We lost our core from last year. We have a new coach. We like being the underdog. We hope teams take us lightly.”
The Rangers return starting guard-forwards Danielle Slivka (8.5 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game) and Tara Knapstein (7.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg), but enter the season with question marks at point guard, power forward and center.
Gaby Bronson, one of the team’s primary post players last season, has already been anointed the starting point guard. The 6-0 junior served as the Rangers’ emergency point guard last year but rarely directed the team’s offense.
“People are going to be intrigued,” said Yorg, a former Maryville assistant coach. “(Bronson) worked hard all summer and she did a great job when we scrimmaged (against UW-Milwaukee). It’s going to be different. You go from a very traditional backcourt to one that is going to be a lot bigger.”
The Rangers remain focused on defense. Parkside thrived with its suffocating man-to-man defense under Kenesie, but have implemented more of a team-based philosophy under Yorg.
“We want to make sure we only give up shots our opponent doesn’t want to take,” Yorg said. “Your (player) is everyone’s problem. We all help each other. It’s all reads, communication and teamwork. You have to trust your teammates. It’s not a set thing. No two plays are ever the same. You manipulate things based on your read.”
Also expected to push for playing time is forward Maddie Johnston, forward Rani Singh and guards Kristin Conniff and Amber Bullock.
The Rangers’ typical, seven-person rotation is likely a thing of the past, according to Yorg.
“We don’t have all those different entities or those dominant players like before,” Yorg said. “Everyone has to step up.”
Last season, Parkside went 12-6 in the GLVC and 21-10 overall. The Rangers advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year and had their string of back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances snapped in falling to Wayne State in the second round.
Defending GLVC champion Drury was picked to win the East Division.
“The GLVC is always tough,” Yorg said. “Every game is going to be a battle.”