2015-16 Women's Basketball
November 4, 2015
By: Ryan Schadewald, sports information assistant
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton University women’s basketball team is looking for a run to the top of the HCAC in 2015-2016, returning seven letterwinners, including four starters from last season’s team that set a program record with 18 wins and a semifinal appearance in the Heartland Conference tournament. 11th-year head coach Chad Shutler believes this could be the season for his team to make a push for the Heartland Conference championship. The HCAC coaches are in agreement with Coach Shutler as the pre-season poll has Bluffton picked to finish second, the best-ever ranking for a Beaver women's basketball squad. Shutler will be assisted by graduate assistant Brianna Calver, and second-year assistant Dennis Lee.
The Beavers are led by a senior class that has experienced as much success as any team in Bluffton women’s basketball history. The class of six includes three women that have started most of the past three seasons, led by the guard duo of Taylor Whitaker (Mansfield/Lexington) and Taylor Knight (Perrysburg). Whitaker led the Beavers in scoring last season while being named First Team All-HCAC in 2014-15. She averaged 12.6 points per contest in her junior campaign. Whitaker also finished last season shooting 91.6 percent (87-of-95) from the charity stripe, putting her second in the nation in that category. Whitaker is paired with Knight, a point guard that averaged 6.7 points and led the team with 3.8 assists per contest her junior season. Her floor leadership along with her tough defense at the point guard spot garnered her Honorable Mention All-HCAC honors last season. Rounding out the trio of senior starters is Kaitlyn Pennekamp (Hamilton/Ross), who averaged 10.6 points per game while shooting 41 percent in 2014-15. The Beavers also return experienced guard Abby Jerger (Middletown/Madison) who played in all 27 contests last season for Bluffton, giving them a spark off the bench. Seniors Marina Lyons (Springfield/Catholic Central) and Belicia Cooper (Painesville/Riverside) are back for their final season, giving Bluffton depth on the wing and in the post.
Bluffton also brings back the reigning HCAC Freshman of the Year in Macey Sheerer (Bucyrus). The versatile Sheerer averaged 12.3 points and also led the Beavers with 6.4 rebounds per contest in 2014-15. She was second on the team with 1.8 assists per contest and shot a superb 46.4 percent from the floor as a freshman. The Beavers also return junior Rachel Beining (Ottoville) and her 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest from last season into the fold. Sophomore Kaycee Rowe (Harrod/Allen East), who averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 boards per game after transferring in at Christmas, looks to step into an even more prominent role in 2015-16.
Also returning for the Beavers are juniors Ashley Salyer (Marion/River Valley) and Jessica Boggan (Cincinnati/Princeton) along with sophomore Abigail O’Donnell (Arcanum) who look to battle and increase their minutes in the 2015-16 season. Coach Shutler and crew also welcomed a class of talented freshmen, highlighted by the duo of high school teammates Breiah Rayford (Toledo/Bowsher) and Brandi Robinson (Toledo/Bowsher). Guard Erika Motiejunas (Mentor) along with post players Shelby Koenig (Delphos/Jefferson) and Torri Futch (Detroit, Mich./Adlai E. Stevenson) are freshmen who will battle for playing time in 2015-16.
After losing their opener last season, the Beavers were able to rattle off five straight victories and finished 2014 7-3 entering the meat of the conference schedule. Following two more wins, Bluffton hit a mini-slump and lost two of its next three. Then after winning three straight they lost back-to-back games to Hanover and Manchester. Bluffton went on to win four straight games before being dominated by nationally-ranked Transylvania on the road to finish the regular season. Bluffton was victorious in opening game of the HCAC tournament, downing Manchester by seven. The Beavers would end their season with another loss to the top-seeded Pioneers in the semifinals by 13 points for an 18-9 season mark.
“We have to improve defensively and play to our tempo this season if we want to have the success we are looking for,” Shutler explained as his keys to winning a conference championship this season. The Beavers gave up 65 points per game, which Shutler believed was the key reason his team struggled to beat the elite teams a season ago. In Coach Shutler’s words, “A lot of what we did last year, we will continue to do.” The Beavers enjoyed pushing the tempo last season in averaging over 70 points per game. He also believes pushing the tempo helps his team because of the balance he has, thanks to having numerous players who can contribute on a nightly basis. This team should be superb from the foul line, a place where the Beavers called home last season, shooting over 20 free throws per game and knocking down 77.2 percent from the stripe.
Looking at this season, Coach Chad Shutler was not shy about his goals and expectations. “We have the skill set, depth, and experience. Add to that the hard work and our team chemistry and we have the pieces to win the conference championship in February.” Shutler believes his team can get there through competing hard in practice, and by not “taking a day off” and having a bad practice. He said another key to their season is that his team cannot peak too soon and they must continue to be hungry and develop a winning culture each and every day.
The Beavers will open up their 2015-16 season on Friday, Nov. 20, at the Buffalo State Tip-Off Tournament against John Carroll. After their weekend in Buffalo, Shutler’s squad opens their home schedule against the Heidelberg University Student Princes at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24, in the Sommer Center. Following a trip to Kalamazoo, the Beavers kick off conference play on Saturday, Dec. 5 in a home contest with reigning HCAC champion Transylvania.