Freshman Van Dyke serving as key piece to Eastern basketball

Freshman+Allison+Van+Dyke+is+this+week%E2%80%99s+Top+Cat.+She+has+been+named+OVC+Freshman+of+the+Week+four+times+this+season+and+had+a+season-high+point+total+of+23+against+Tennessee-Martin.
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Freshman Van Dyke serving as key piece to Eastern basketball

Freshman Allison Van Dyke is this week’s Top Cat. She has been named OVC Freshman of the Week four times this season and had a season-high point total of 23 against Tennessee-Martin.

Freshman Allison Van Dyke is this week’s Top Cat. She has been named OVC Freshman of the Week four times this season and had a season-high point total of 23 against Tennessee-Martin.

Sean Hastings

Freshman Allison Van Dyke is this week’s Top Cat. She has been named OVC Freshman of the Week four times this season and had a season-high point total of 23 against Tennessee-Martin.

Sean Hastings

Sean Hastings

Freshman Allison Van Dyke is this week’s Top Cat. She has been named OVC Freshman of the Week four times this season and had a season-high point total of 23 against Tennessee-Martin.

Mark Shanahan, Women's Basketball Reporter

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Freshman Allison Van Dyke has jumped onto the scene as a first year starter for the Eastern women’s basketball team and has made an immediate impact on the team.

Not only has Van Dyke been recognized by her team for her strong play, she has been recognized four times as the Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the week this season.

The awards were not something that Van Dyke expected, but come as a big confidence booster.

“It’s huge,” Van Dyke said. “I didn’t expect it at all, I come out and do the best I can, just getting one of those verifies that what you are doing is right.”

Van Dyke has started all 17 games this season and is averaging 32 minutes a game. Eastern coach Debbie Black saw that Van Dyke had something special from practices and that decided how she cracked the starting lineup from the beginning.

“I think from the beginning, she’s started every game for us right now and it was sort of between myself and my staff that she was going to get that starting role,” Black said

The key to Van Dyke’s impressive start to her college career has been believing in herself and having confidence in her game.

“I just had to believe in myself,” Van Dyke said. “That was a lot of it. Confidence coming in even though you’re a freshman, you’re still capable of doing really good things out there.”

Junior guard Grace Lennox talked about how Van Dyke has progressed since the beginning of the season.

“She started playing at already a fairly high level, but it has been awesome to see her further improve as the season is going on,” Lennox said. “Her rebounding has been something that had started to develop more towards the end of the season, which has been really helpful for us. Her ability to make the outside shot and also finish at the rim also improved as the season went on. I look forward to watching her develop more over the next games and seasons.”

Rebounding was also something Black pointed out that Van Dyke has slowly gotten better at. In the absence of junior Jalisha Smith, Van Dyke is the second leading rebounder on the team with 4.6 per game.

Lennox has ran the offense for the past couple of years as the point guard and said she tries to help mentor Van Dyke whenever she can.

“I’m always trying to help out my teammates whenever they need it,” Lennox said.

“She is always willing to get in the gym and do some extra work with me and is open to advice.”

Van Dyke came to Eastern after a successful high school career at Westfield High School in Indiana. She earned All-State honors from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association her senior year and led her team to its first conference title.

The transition from high school to college is not as easy as Van Dyke has made it look.

“I guess it’s just like a role thing,” Van Dyke said. “In high school you don’t have all these Division I college players so you’re out there and you know you’re one of the best in high school and then you come here and everyone has come from being the best. It’s just a matter of finding your spot where you fit and doing the best you can in the given situation.”

Van Dyke averages 10.8 points per game, which is third highest on the team right now behind Lennox and senior forward Erica Brown. Van Dyke is 23-for-58 from  beyond the arc, which is .397 percent; the best on the team.

Coach Black saw size and basketball IQ when recruiting Van Dyke. She said that basketball IQ is not really something you can teach, you either have it or you don’t.

“I think the biggest thing was that for the three years that I was coaching I knew I needed a big guard, a big wing,” Black said. “Her size and her versatility, she played a little wing in high school and I liked the fact that she did that, but I think her size was probably the number one thing. And then the second thing I think is her basketball IQ.”

Van Dyke’s basketball IQ comes from playing basketball since she can remember and her parents, who had a special influence on her because they used to play the sport also. Her mother played college basketball at the University of New Mexico.

Van Dyke said that once a game gets underway, she can tell what her role is going to be whether it is taking the shots or going for the rebounds.

“Some games I go out and I score a lot and then other games I go out, like last game, and it wasn’t my game to score,” she said. “You have different games. That game I was focused on getting as many rebounds as you can so that was my focus. It just kind of depends game to game.”

The role changes for Van Dyke became evident in the last two games. Against Tennessee-Martin, Van Dyke scored a career-high 23 points with four rebounds in the overtime victory. Last time out against Southeast Missouri, Van Dyke had nine rebounds and seven points.

Black said that Van Dyke helps make it easier for everyone when it comes to the game plan and it’s a luxury that the team had been lacking.

“It makes coaches look better,” Black said. “Being a player most of my life, players make plays and coaches coach.”

Players like Van Dyke have been making plays for this Panthers team who have seven wins this season and three wins in OVC play, which are both more than they had all of last year.

The Eastern team welcomed in Van Dyke and her fellow freshmen teammates from the start. Van Dyke said it was nothing like how it was when you are a freshman in high school.

“Everybody has been super welcoming,” Van Dyke said. “It wasn’t like high school when you came in as a freshman, you were a freshman, and coming in here it didn’t really feel like that. It just felt like having any other teammate.”

Van Dyke said the hardest aspect about playing at the college level is that it is like a full-time job and trying to balance everything.

“Your focus is school and basketball and that’s it,” Van Dyke said. “There is stuff that you give up being apart of this team, but you also get a family when you are apart of it. I’d say it’s totally worth it.”

With eight games remaining this season and Eastern in the thick of the race for a bid to the conference tournament, Van Dyke and her teammates still have a big task ahead of them.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]