WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Coach will face challenge this season with young team

Team will look to upperclassmen to lead eight combined freshmen and sophomores

Having dropped 10 consecutive games to end last season, coach Kelly Packard is presented with possibly the most difficult challenge in her tenure at Ball State this season.

Ball State's leading scorers from a season ago in Emily Maggert and Ty'Ronda Benning are gone, leaving Packard having to craft a different formula for success this season. With eight of her 13 players on roster freshmen or sophomores, Packard understands that the road to success could be full of obstacles.

"I'm obviously still trying to get a firm handle on personnel," Packard said. "[It] requires a lot of strategy on how best to put them in rotations during competition and how many minutes and what the distribution of position is and all those things that you need to walk through as a coach."

Newcomers Brittany Carter, Shelbie Justice, Jonessa Moore and Neschelle Williams will be utilized in different scenarios over the course of the season. But Packard said it's going to be tough to replace players like Maggert and Benning.

"We're entering a season where there aren't as many returning answers," Packard said. "With the departure of Emily and Ty'Ronda, and the statistical departures that they left too, it is going to take a little bit longer to really shape [this team's] distribution and strategy with the number of youths we have."

Nonetheless, Packard, who is a firm believer of taking her players under her wing both on and off the court, is fully confident in the group of returners. Sophomores Jazmin Hitchens, Jordan Huber, Katie Murphy and Brandy Woody are looking to improve and build off of their rookie seasons.

As expected, Packard said there will be a learning curve, but she doesn't believe it will have a significant impact on her team. Instead, Packard said she feels it will benefit the returning players.

"Our sophomores got significant minutes last season as freshmen," she said. "So that learning curve is paced out in front of itself because of those minutes. [They] are returning to drills and are able to go through them in a much clearer way than they did last year."

Packard said she doesn't want her freshmen to get overwhelmed. In order to prevent an information overload, Packard and her staff have slowed things down in practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.

"Being able to go slow enough for our freshmen is always something I have a watch on and make sure that we're capturing their understanding of the core fundamentals," Packard said.

When looking for leadership, Packard will turn to senior captains Suzanne Grossnickle and Amber Crago. Grossnickle averaged over five points per game last season while Crago shot 52 percent from the field.

"They're veteran post players," Packard said. "They've been able to know, strategically on the court, our terminology. Because of the continuity of our staff with them, they're able to guide our youth. They both bring experience in the paint."

Last season is irrelevant in Packard's mind and she's ready for her team to form its own unique identity.

"I've worked really hard in not referencing to last year from the standpoint of things that we weren't successful at," she said. "Part of that is so they form their own purpose for doing what they're doing. That's been a place to hang onto, the good things that we stand for."