Coach Herbrechtsmeyer's young team has come a long way with the help of his veteran leaders
Sports | Jared Nelson
"We play for each other which makes it fun to work," Katelyn Vavra said. Vavra is a team captain along with Micaella Petrich and Lindy Parker. | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Sports Information
In terms of wins and losses, the 2012-2013 season was a forgettable one for Coach Jon Herbrechtsmeyer and the women’s basketball team. A 6-19 record left them among the bottom dwellers in the league and on the outside of the playoff picture.
The 2013-2014 season was a new start for Herbrechtsmeyer’s team, as they’ve made a turnaround of record proportions, clinching a playoff berth and improving their record to 17-6 with a win over Augsburg last weekend. The current campaign has seen the most wins in nearly 20 years for the program in addition to the biggest turnaround in its history. According to Herbrechtsmeyer, the key to the improvement has been the leadership of the team’s upperclassmen.
“They’ve done a great job since day one of setting a tone of togetherness,” Herbrechtsmeyer said. “We win together, we lose together and we practice together. They’re focused when they need to be focused, but when its time to laugh and enjoy each other they can do that too.”
Senior captain Katelyn Vavra has noticed a change too, specifically in the chemistry of the players on the team.
“The atmosphere is a lot better this year,” Vavra said. “Everyone is positive on and off the court, which gives us better chemistry. We play for each other which makes it fun to work hard and play.”
Fellow captain, senior Micaella Petrich, adds that the unity gives the team the feel of a family.
“We are on this team to serve one another,” Petrich said. “I’ve never been on a team comprised of people so selfless, loving and joyful but still competitive.”
Not only do the Royals have the intangibles that it takes to be a playoff caliber team, they also have the talent; and it didn’t take long for Herbrechtsmeyer and his staff to recognize the potential in this year’s team.
“We were halfway through the first practice and [my assistant coach] Dwight looked at me and said, ‘Wow, this is the best team we’ve ever had,’ and I said, ‘by a long ways,’” Herbrechtsmeyer said. “The biggest part of it is that we’ve got fifteen kids who can play.”
Much of the team’s production comes from their freshman and sophomore class, led by last year’s D3hoops.com Rookie of the Year Rachel Parupsky. As a freshman, the Arden Hills native led the MIAC in points, rebounds and blocks, but her workload this season has been lightened thanks in large part to the play of newcomer Kalli Zimmerman. The frontcourt duo is filling up the stat sheet this season, as both ladies are in the MIAC’s top 10 for points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage through 23 games.
According to Herbrechtsmeyer, the place that the freshmen have had the greatest impact is the defensive end of the court.
“We didn’t have that big perimeter defender that Kalli can sometimes be,” Herbrechtsmeyer said, “and when it’s not her, its [freshman] Shanni Moorse. We’ve got the right pieces at the right time and its fun to see it come together.”
Herbrechtsmeyer is quick to add that the transition from high school hoops to the collegiate level is not always an easy one. According to him, freshman often have trouble adjusting to the speed and complexity of the college game, but the guidance of captains Vavra, Petrich and junior Lindy Parker has helped the freshmen jump right in to contributing roles.
Vavra has held a variety of roles during her four years on the team, and she says it’s because of that experience that she’s able to relate to the younger players.
“I’ve been in most of the girls shoes at some point during my four years so I can relate when I need to,” Vavra said. “I feel it’s my role to be stable and supportive of the girls, and they’re all so open and willing to learn and get better, which makes it easy to be a senior leader.”
Petrich echoed Vavra’s sentiments, saying that her experience has allowed her to become a better leader throughout the ups and downs of a season that spans five full months.
Vavra, Petrich and Parker are the only players on Bethel’s roster with playoff experience, and their leadership will be as important as ever as Bethel heads into the playoffs. Currently sitting at fourth place in the MIAC and set to host a playoff game, it’s a challenge for which they’re more than ready.
“I’ve never been more confident in a team than this one, being able to step on the court every night and know we can win. I’m pumped to see how far this team goes,” Petrich said.
“We said from the beginning that we felt that we had the potential to be an NCAA tournament team,” Herbrechtsmeyer added. “Why not us? Why not now? Let’s go get it done.”