Bollant to get first look at team on Thursday in exhibition


File Photo

Sophomore Karle Pace cuts past a Southern Illinois Edwardsville player in an Eastern win last season in Lantz Arena. The Panthers begin exhibition play Thursday against Illinois-Wesleyan in Lantz Arena.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Eastern’s women’s basketball head coach, Matt Bollant, wants his team to play at a faster pace this season than they did last year. Bollant feels he has the personnel to do so and will get a look at his new strategy in action Thursday in an exhibition against Illinois-Wesleyan.

Last season the Panthers knew in most games they played in, they were not as talented as the other team on the court and as a result of that would try to slow the game down to limit possessions on the court. With the return of point guard Grace Lennox from injury, the additions of players like Kira Arthofer, Damonique Miller and forwards Grace McRae and Jennifer Nehls being in better shape, the Panthers now feel they have the depth to run the floor faster, something that will be on display against Wesleyan.

“We’re hoping this year because we’re more talented, because we’re more athletic that we’re going to be able to play faster and pressure the ball, create some turnovers and then be able to run,” Bollant said.

Arthofer, who was a state track champion in high school, and Miller, who Bollant praises for her athleticsm, are two of the new faces that will be key to the uptick in pace this season. All of the returners too, Bollant says, are in better shape after a “really good offseason.”

Bollant is expecting progress from all of his returning players this season, particularly sophomore Karle Pace, Taylor Steele and Grace McRae, all of whom started last season and will again start Thursday against Wesleyan.

“Taylor, Karle and ‘G-Mac’ (McRae) I think as sophomores are really going to take a step,” Bollant said. “They had good freshman years, and we really hope they’re going to have great sophomore years.”

The three sophomores will be joined in the starting lineup by Nehls and Lennox. For Lennox, this will be her first live game since December of last season. The redshirt-senior is the facilitator of the offense, and for most of her time at Eastern has been the primary ball-handler and scorer, so seeing if she has any rust (which knowing Lennox is doubtful) will be important on Thursday.

“(I’ll be looking for) the poise as a point guard, lead us, get us in to stuff,” Bollant said of Lennox. “She has done a great job pressuring the ball, and we’re certainly better defensively when she is on the floor. But yeah, lead our team, get us started in the right way, do the right things as a point guard to help us be great.”

The starters will begin the game on the court but will not see their normal season minutes on Thursday. Bollant is going to use the exhibition to give playing time to other players on the roster and try different rotations. Arthofer and Miller will be the first two players off the bench.

“We will rotate a little more than a normal game, but at the same time we only have a few days after that and we have a game,” Bollant said. “We’re certainly getting ready to play in games, but everyone will probably get a look tomorrow.”

In general, Bollant will be looking for progress from his team that was just 3-26 a season ago. The return of Lennox and the additions of Arthofer and Miller will help jumpstart that progress, but first and foremost, these exhibition games need to show Eastern taking a step in the right direction.

“Just continue to take a step. Obviously, we have a lot of new kids and (we’re) trying to see what they look like when the lights are on,” Bollant said.

The Panthers will be playing both a man and buzz-style defense against Wesleyan, as Bollant feels out which style his team plays better in.

By no means are the Panthers expecting Weslyean to just roll-over on Thursday; that is one of the reasons the Panthers scheduled them.

Wesleyan has three seniors returning for them, and last season the group won 24 games. Eastern knows from experience not to take exhibition games lightly, as last season the Panthers were down at halftime to Rose-Hulman.

“(Wesleyan) is a good basketball team,” Bollant said. “A couple of years ago they played DePaul in an exhibition game, and DePaul is a top-25 team, and held their own with them there. So, we expect them to come in and they’re very confident, they’ve won a lot of games, have three seniors that have won a lot of games there.”

Eastern and Illinois-Wesleyan tip-off at 6 p.m. Thursday in Lantz Arena.

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