McHie Arena

New floors shine under the lights at Olivet Nazarene University's McHie Arena.

It’s been a little more than two months since the Olivet Nazarene University women’s hoops team played its first game of the season. Since then, the Tigers only have totaled four games played because eight games were canceled when ONU decided, as a school, to put a halt to all of its winter sports amidst COVID-19.

The decision resulted in a 55-day pause between the Tigers’ season opener against Bethel University in November and their second game of the year against against 12th-ranked St. Francis on Thursday.

Players were forced to prepare for the season to resume on their own and away from team facilities after some had contracted the virus themselves.

This year’s lone senior, Ashley Ford, said although it was frustrating at times trying to keep her teammates accountable through Zoom, workouts and the like, it did give a lot of time to help the team gel more, especially after losing four starters from last year’s squad to graduation, as well as bringing in four new freshmen.

“I think we really have come together after COVID-19 since a lot of our team members got it after our first game before the season got paused,” Ford said. “So, it really helped us to kind of ramp together. We had to take a long month and a half off, but we actually really bonded over that time. So, the delay was pretty good for us.”

Ford said her squad came back in pretty good shape, thanks to head coach Lauren Glenn’s workout routines she would send the team during the break.

“Coming back, I think Coach gave us a lot of different runs and workouts to do,” Ford said. “So, she did a really good job keeping us accountable over that break before our season resumed.”

In their return, the Tigers dropped their first game back to St. Francis in a lopsided 79-44 loss. However, since suffering their first loss of the year, the Tigers have gone 2-0 with wins against Judson and Trinity College to improve to 3-1 on the season.

“It’s definitely great to be back on the court,” Glenn said. “There’s definitely a lot of energy coming back from the break, and we are starting to find our rhythm after the first couple of practices and games. And it’s been fun to see them progress; I like where we are at right now.”

It seems as though the Tigers are doing just fine without last year’s loaded senior class — Olivia Schmidt, Kayla Ross, Katie Settingsgaard and Sammy Stejskal — but it remains to be seen how it will affect the team later on in the season.

All four of ONU’s 2020 seniors started in at least 30-of-32 possible games played last season, including Stejskal, who started all 32 games and averaged a team-high 18.3 points per game.

This year’s team is a little younger than in years past — with just one senior, seven juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen — and lacks a volume scorer such as Stejskal, but Glenn said she believes this season will be very different than ones in previous seasons.

“Now that we are finally getting back to playing this semester, it’s been fun to start to see the team come together right now,” Glenn said. “We have a very different situation this year in that we have a more balanced scoring approach than we have had in the previous couple of years, and I think that will be good for us.”

The Tigers have introduced four new freshmen to the squad in 2020 Bradley-Bourbonnais graduate Emma Russell, Molly Ream, Olivia Demosthenes and Jamie Finn.

Glenn said she plans to give both Ream and Demosthenes some time at point guard this season. Russell will fill the hard-worker role in her first season. Finn recently fractured her elbow, which will result in her missing some time.

“All four of our freshmen, in different ways, will contribute to help the team culture and [help] us on the court, too,” Glenn said.

Despite all the question marks around the season because of COVID-19 as well as all the new personal changes between incoming and outgoing players, Glenn and her team are excited to see what is in store for them in 2021.

“I think this is a great group of girls who will contribute in a balanced way,” Glenn said. “And if we continue to learn to come together, I think the more we learn how to use each other’s strengths, the more excited I will become in seeing how we will progress forward as a team.

“I would say [with] this team, more than any other team that we’ve had in the last few years, I’m just excited about the balanced and team approach that this team can bring.”

Ford seemed to agree with her coach, noting the abundance of talent up and down the roster.

“I think we have a lot of potential with this group of girls,” Ford said. “We have a lot of great juniors and some really talented sophomores and freshmen … so, I’m just excited to play, and hopefully we can win some championships this season.”

The Tigers have 13 scheduled regular season games remaining, with their next contest at home at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday against Trinity International University.

Cody is a sports journalist who's been with the Daily Journal since 2020. He's been a sports reporter since his days at the University of Iowa where he graduated in 2019.