Record season in sight before MWC tourney
February 1, 2013
Joe Florio / The Courier - Fighting Scots forward Marla Willard fights for a lost ball in last Saturday’s 85-37 win against Lawrence University.
In case you haven’t noticed, Monmouth women’s hoops are good. Just how good, you ask? Good enough to win their first 10 games of the season, knock off national power Wisconsin-Whitewater and gain the first top 25 ranking in program history.
Three of the program’s four winningest seasons have come in the last four years. Individual records for career blocked shots, 3-point field goals made, steals and assists have all fallen in that span.
Despite the individual accolades, Coach Melissa Bittner’s squad continues to exemplify team-oriented ball, with frightening offensive balance. Through 19 games the Scots have 16 wins and are tied for the most wins in a single season in program history.
Four Monmouth players currently average in double figures; two guards in Kaley Corban and Paige Nord, as well as the front court duo of Marla Willard and Zipporah Williams. Williams leads the team with 12.8 points per game, joining the 1,000 point club earlier this month. Bittner says offensive balance is a point of emphasis.
“We want to be the type of team that, if you double down on our post players, you’ll leave a great 3-point shooter like Colleen Forrest open on the perimeter,” says Bittner. “We try to really be a balanced team so opponents can’t key in on one person.”
This year’s Scots are balanced in every sense of the word. Both Forrest and Nord average 40% or better from beyond the arc. Down low, forwards Willard and Williams have earned three combined MWC Performer of the Week awards, ranking 2nd and 4th, respectively, in total rebounds.
Willard feels playing alongside Williams creates perfect frontcourt balance. “We do have similar stats, and we both pride ourselves on our rebounding,” says Willard. “Zipporah uses speed and agility as her game while I use strength. I think the two of us together create a team that produces some good results.”
However, after a solid past few seasons, “good” isn’t what the Scots are striving for any longer. “Great” is the expectation, and to reach those lofty aspirations Bittner’s team must not only qualify for the NCAA tournament, but avoid a first round exit this time around.
Although with the re-entry of Cornell into the MWC this year, a conference tournament title is far from a formality. Once again, the degree to which the Scots play team-oriented basketball will determine their fate.
“In two of the losses we’ve had this season, we didn’t move the ball offensively,” said Bittner. “I think we’ve learned that lesson and we’ve seen great improvement emphasizing moving the ball around so we can get high percentage shots. When we do that we’ve got great shooters who will knock those shots down.”
This Saturday the Scots welcome the Ripon Red Hawks to Glennie Gymnasium; tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.