WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Freshmen learning roles, get experience
BSU freshmen make impact, develop for future
Year in and year out coaches swarm high schools across the nation in search of the most talented athletes the country has to offer.
It can be compared to big-game fishing. Everyone that has ever gone fishing sets off with a mental image of snagging the biggest, feistiest and strongest fish in the pond.
For Ball State coach Kelly Packard, the recruiting pond was full of big game.
The third-year head coach certainly hit a homerun with this season's recruiting class, between the four of them lie three state championships. The feat certainly caught the eye of Packard.
Despite being allured by their high school success, Packard knows her freshmen will hit road bumps over the course of a long season.
"Freshmen are going to go through some peaks and valleys," Packard said. "They're going to show some inconsistencies over the course of 30 to 33 games. What I see is the college player and that's a four-year view I'm keeping right now."
Growing pains and mental miscues aren't out of the ordinary, but can be painful at times for any coach.
"When they struggle it's really tough for me emotionally," Packard said. "I'm tied into the development of them as young women. When I see them struggle that's where my heart gets intertwined with them.
"It's kind of like being a mom and not wanting your kids to go through some of the things that ultimately grow them as people. It's the same thing as a coach."
Once Packard got four nibbles on her line, she jerked the pole up-and-down until four of the finest athletes arrived in Muncie.
The defensive standout
Jazmin Hitchens, a 6-foot-1 forward, has brought much needed physicality to the Cardinals defense. At times she's mean, tough, hardnosed, a defensive bully.
"Your defense always sparks your offense's confidence," she said. "My policy is, ‘no matter what, play defense.'"
Hitchens leads the Cardinals in steals with 36 and her 15 blocks are the second most on the team.
"I'm really good at judging passing lanes, and when somebody is going to pass the ball," she said. "I use my quickness to my advantage when I'm playing against smaller or bigger guards."
Against Western Michigan on Jan. 11, Ball State was clinging to a 65-60 lead with 26 seconds to play. Hitchens made a huge defensive block. After two consecutive offensive rebounds by Western Michigan, Hitchens stole the ball to seal the victory.
"She's able [to] make a decision in a crunch time situation [and] a big play and another one on the heels of the one before it," Packard said.
No matter if it's a game, practice, shooting around or lifting weights, Hitchens always gives 100 percent.
"Everyday is not promised," she said. "You have to give your all because you don't know what's going to happen."
She's the fastest fish in the pond. She flies to the ball like a fish swarming a baited hook. Guard Brandy Woody is a bundle of athleticism mixed with pure skill.
"Brandy's a competitor," Packard said. "When we began our preseason in late August, [she] was generally the winner of almost everything we did. If it was an endurance race, cardio race, short sprint or some type of lateral agility [race], she could win."
One of the biggest obstacles facing Woody is turning the ball over. She leads the Cardinals with 99 this season and has a 0.70 assist-to-turnover ratio. Woody said it's extremely frustrating, but she is working through her struggles.
"I'm the point guard and I shouldn't be having that many turnovers," Woody said. "I'm learning from them. Hopefully [they] will cut off as the season goes on."
Arocky start to her college career wasn't what forward Katie Murphy had in mind.
Murphy missed preseason conditioning after pulling a muscle in her leg. A cut that needed stitches meant she was out for another two weeks. A shoulder injury required her to wear a brace.
"It was one thing after another, but it made me stronger in the end," she said.
Murphy is trying to soak up as much as possible from one of her closest teammates: senior Emily Maggert. Murphy wasted no time in picking up on some little things from Maggert.
"She's helped me adjust to man-to-man defense," Murphy said. "I played zone all through high school. In AAU I've never played man-to-man the way they play."
Maggert's influence is critical to Murphy's development.
"Katie has great range," Packard said. "She can shoot the 3. Those are things that she'll continue to gain confidence in…That mentoring process of Emily being able to seek Katie out at practice and make sure that she's got her under her wing is important to us this year."
She makes her appearance in such a quiet, casual manner. At the most opportune time when the defense least expects it, she sets her feet behind a thin black stripe embedded into the court, positions her body and fires.
Jordan Huber is commonly known as "the shooter."
"[At the] mention of Jordan Huber anybody in the state of Indiana would say, ‘she's the kid from Ben Davis that shoots the ball,'" Packard said. "That's just what she became known as.
Huber has yet to make her first career start, but she has played in all 21 games for the Cardinals. Her ability to shoot is the reason she was brought here.
A shooter's mind functions in a completely different way than most players.
"Shooters are really streaky," Packard said. "It's hard to really evaluate all the technical pieces. For the most part they look good. We're working to make sure that everything is in alignment-her feet, hips [and] shoulders."
There is a lot of pressure in this one responsibility. Packard said a shooter has to be able to keep firing even if the first attempts miss.
Just like a revolver after a missed shot, Huber must reload.
"Jordan's tough on herself," Packard said. "I need her to be able to bounce [back] quickly from a missed shot. There's going to be another play that needs to be made right away."
At one point this group of catch faced numerous challenges of adapting to a new environment. Watching them grow and thrive everyday is a work of art.
"I feel like I'm watching them collect confidence," Packard said. "They collect confidence as freshmen [every] play. I see that in them."