Women’s basketball reloads to defend national championship
Having defeated No. 2 Westmont College (California) in the 2016 Jackson Rotary Classic, the Pioneers are upholding the high expectations they set with last year’s play. The team currently sits at the top of the HAAC with an undefeated 8-0 conference record.
Though the NAIA and the MNU community are closely following the team’s progress, head coach Jon Lewis said that this kind of pressure does not faze him or the team.
“The expectations we put on ourselves is enough pressure,” Lewis said. “It all comes down to each one of us being the best version of ourselves each day. Getting it done based on the talents we have and maximizing those. The rest will take care of itself.”
Junior forward Tristin Wicks acknowledged that though there is a lot of pressure to defend the title, there is also an opportunity to continue to work hard.
“[The pressure] doesn’t determine who we are. We determine that,” Wicks said.
According to Lewis, the pressure and high expectations actually act as a form of relief.
“It creates a buy-in that the way we’re doing things works,” Lewis said. “As much stress as there is defending the championship, there is a lot of relief in it as well.”
Even with the excitement surrounding the team, its own expectations for the regular season have remained unaltered. Lewis said that he continues to expect every player to uphold the program’s standard, making the right decisions both on and off the court.
Junior guard Jayden Oliver said that it is important to take things as they come.
“As a team, we have to take it one game at a time, being all in, on the same page to get where we want to be at the end of the season,” Oliver said.
Last season’s seniors were major keys to the team’s success, scoring frequently, creating plays and holding the team together in the critical moments of games. However, their absence brings an opportunity for young Pioneers. Wicks said that this situation brings a chance for other players to rise to the occasion and become the next generation of leadership on the court.
“We have potential. There’s a lot of improvement that needs to be done, but that’s what’s great about [the opportunity],” Wicks said.
Lewis said that whenever the leadership changes, it takes a little less than half of the season to figure out the team’s new identity, but that can be overcome as players step up throughout the year.
“People need to step up in crucial points for the team to realize who to lean on in tough situations,” Lewis said. “It’s more or less each person embracing their role and not letting each other down.”
Lewis said that the team has not been set back by losing last season’s key players.
“We don’t rebuild,” Lewis said. “We reload.”
The Pioneers’ next home game will be Saturday Dec. 17 against Southeastern University (Florida).
Carlos Guzman- More by this author
Carlos Guzman ('19) is from Overland Park, Kansas and is the Sports editor for The Trailblazer. He is a biology major with an emphasis in pre-medicine and is also pursuing a minor degree in Youth and Family Ministry. Carlos is also on the cross country and track and field team.