Young women’s basketball team finishes season 3-26


Karina Delgado

Sophomore Danielle Berry tries to keep stay infront of a Southern Illinois Edwardsville player as she tries to dribble by. The Panthers won their final game of the season against the Cougars, who were the No. 2 seed heading into that game.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor


At the beginning of the Eastern women’s basketball season, first-year head coach Matt Bollant said his new team, which had finished last in 2015 and 2016, was trying to be different, however the team finished in last place again in 2017 with a 3-26 overall record, yet, circumstances did not allow things to go to plan.

Bollant said in October before the season began that the key to the team being different was senior point guard Grace Lennox, who he said could be the best point guard in the league, and that if the team were to have a better season it would start with her.

“(Lennox) is a first-team all-conference kid, point guard, best player and by far the most talented returning player,” Bollant said.

Just eight games in, however, Lennox went down with a knee injury, and the team, which was 1-7 at the time, was trying to fill the hole in the puzzle Lennox left with a variety of pieces.

“Obviously you don’t anticipate (Lennox) getting hurt. She is the one kid that that if you asked ‘who can’t get hurt?’ and immediately everyone would say ‘Grace Lennox’,” Bollant said.

The pieces they found were freshman guards Taylor Steele and Karle Pace, and while they seemed to fit well, the wins still were not coming for Eastern.

Pace averaged 12.8 points per game in the 15 games she started with Lennox, and Steele finished the year with 12.1 points per game when she started.

Despite how well Lennox’s replacements played, the team was still losing games, and it was because of something none of the players on the team could control: their youth.

After Lennox went down the team was strapped for a leader. Time and time again Bollant would cite the team’s late-game collapses to a lack of a player stepping up and making plays down the stretch, a role typically filled by Lennox.

Six of the nine players on the roster and all five starters were underclassmen for Eastern, and while at times they played very well, which was a good glimpse at the potential of the program, putting winning expectations on a young group was too much to ask during the season.

“We really had five players out that had no experience from the past, so it was a pretty sharp learning curve for them. But, it will help them for sure, they were kind of forced to have to step up and make plays and grow quickly, and I think it will help all of them in their maturity process,” Bollant said.

Pace started 15 games as a freshman, Steele started 21, sophomore Danielle Berry started all 29 games for the Panthers, sophomore Jennifer Nehls started in 28 and freshman Grace McRae started in 27.

When asked if the team would have won more games had there been more experienced players on the court, Bollant said “yes.”

“If you look at a lot of the games, we lost 10 games in the conference by 11 points or less, and so many of those games we were right there and then they would have one of their juniors or seniors step up and make plays late in the game when it was on the line,” Bollant said. “We just didn’t have that.”

Bollant said the one thing he was proud of was how the team got better defensively throughout the year and how the team stuck together and grew through the struggles.

“I think if we continue to do that, then good things are ahead for this program,” Bollant said.

The season was not a total-loss as its record might indicate; the growth of the young players bodes very well for the Panthers next season, especially when considering the strength of the recruiting class coming in.

The class includes forward Abby Wahl, who averaged 20.2 points per game and 8.9 rebounds her senior season. There is also guard Kira Arthofer, who was Big 10 bound before suffering a knee-injury. Jordan Hughes, a guard from Gurnee, just led her team to a regional title, and Australian Jordan Pyle redshirted this season and will debut for the Panthers next year.

Bollant said it is hard to tell how well the new recruits will fit in right away, but said they are a talented group, and the one thing those players will have that the new players this year did not, is a big group of returning players that played and made a lot of good plays.

“I think that bodes well for next year being different,” Bollant said.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]