BY AXEL HALVARSON, STAFF WRITER
Bellarmine’s 2015-16 women’s basketball team was one of the most successful and historic groups in the school’s history.
The team was 24-4 overall and 15-3 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, won the GLVC Tournament Championship and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, before losing in the first round to Saginaw Valley State University.
The Saginaw game, right after the death of Bellarmine President Dr. Joseph McGowan, left the team emotionally drained. The team ended up playing one of its worst games of the season at the worst possible time.
“It left a sour taste in our mouth,” head coach Chancellor Dugan said.
Senior forward Sarah Galvin said, “We weren’t prepared: We weren’t happy with the way the season ended.”
Now, it’s on to the 2016-17 season. After their most accomplished season ever, the Knights’ expectations are higher than ever. The team is looking to build on its success and catapult into becoming a new national powerhouse. Bellarmine hopes to do this by utilizing its experienced talent.
Bellarmine returns three 2016 All-GLVC performers who made a major impact in the Knights’ historic season last year: Galvin first team; junior guard Raven Merriweather second team; and senior guard Destony Curry third team.
Bellarmine’s success has not gone unnoticed nationally.
The Knights are No. 13 in the country by Women’s Division II Bulletin Rankings. Dugan said she sees the ranking more as motivation than success.
“It’s nice to be noticed, but we don’t want to be ranked 13th at the end of the season. We want to be ranked No. 1,” Dugan said.
The pre-season accolades for the Knights don’t stop at their ranking. Galvin was named to the “Super 16,” a list of the top 16 players in the country.
Galvin is Bellarmine’s star player and leading scorer from last season, scoring 17.8 points per game in 2015-16. Galvin said she is not worried about all of the hype surrounding her and the rest of the team.
“I want to be a good leader,” Galvin said. “I want to make the team better in any way I can.”
Dugan said although Galvin is a phenomenal talent, the focus is on the team and not one individual.
“It’s not about one player. It’s about the whole team,” Dugan said.
She has high aspirations for the identity of the team she wants on the court.
“We want to be the best defensive team in the league,” Dugan said.
Rebounding and a strong turnover ratio will be stressed throughout the season and become part of the style of Bellarmine’s squad. Dugan said if the Knights are able to take care of these goals, winning will take care of itself.
The Knights will face Lewis and Drury, which are both ranked in the Top 25 heading into the season. Galvin said nothing will come easy and every game will present new challenges.
“We take each game one step at a time,” Galvin said.
Dugan and her staff brought in five freshmen to balance the Knights’ experience with a healthy dose of youth.
China Brown, Mikayla Berry, Katie Downey, Taylor Hunter and Mallory Schwartz make up the Knights’ 2016 class. Schwartz, a forward, said she and her fellow freshmen will be ready for their opportunities.
“We (freshmen) work hard in practice and push each other to be better every day,” Schwartz said. “I am able to fill in the spots above me and be ready to play.”
In addition to new players, there’s a new face on the coaching staff.
Candyce Bingham, a former WNBA draft selection and University of Louisville NCAA Tournament runner-up, joined the Knights’ coaching staff as an assistant coach.
Bingham previously coached at Western Kentucky University, Fern Creek High School and Dupont Manual High School.
Bingham is already well respected by her players and her superior.
“She is a great asset to the team,” Galvin said. “She pushes us hard in practice and works well with all of us.”
Said Dugan: “I am fortunate to have excellent assistant coaches. They make me look good.”
The first game of the season is Nov. 11 against Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. Opening night at Knights Hall is Nov. 19 against Ohio Dominican University at 6 p.m.