GVSU melds over break, wins five of six
Women's basketball team caps off 5-1 winter break with back-to-back home wins
The Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team added seven new faces to the roster this season: freshmen Piper Tucker, Kayla Dawson, Taylor Lutz, Janae Langs, Keyara Wiard along with NCAA Division I transfers Bailey Cairnduff and Janelle McQueen.
A fitting count because after 10 games this season, the Lakers have seven wins, are 4-0 at home, 5-1 in conference and have employed a blend of incoming and returning talent to achieve their results.
“I think you have to give our leaders credit,” head coach Janel Burgess said. “The upperclassmen, Dani Crandall leading the way, Kat (LaPrairie) and (Meryl) Cripe have really done a good job of embracing the young kids and these young kids are extremely hardworking and proven winners.
“Everyone has also been very open to being coached and challenged from myself and my staff.”
After a narrow 76-73 loss to defending national champion Ashland University on Dec. 5 just before GVSU closed for holiday break, the Lakers reeled off three consecutive GLIAC victories; a 76-53 victory over Lake Erie College on Dec. 7, a 69-52 win at Tiffin University on Dec. 15 and a 68-55 triumph over Ohio Dominican University on Dec. 17.
GVSU went on to drop a challenging game at the University of Indianapolis 91-52 on Dec. 22, but after a 10-day reprisal, returned to the court on Jan. 2 to ring in the new year with an 80-69 dismantling of Hillsdale College.
“Coming off that UIndy game coming into break, it kind of left a bad taste in our mouths and we didn’t play the way we know we can play,” Crandall said. “UIndy is a great team, but after that loss, we realized how important it is for us to play the way we know how to play at all times.”
Up 40-36 at half, the lady Lakers stretched the lead as high as 23 points in the second stanza and closed out the Chargers to capture a fourth-straight GLIAC victory.
“We had some great games and some great growing opportunities and we took full advantage,” Burgess said. “I’m really proud of where we’re at right now, especially after these two good conference wins this past weekend.”
LaPrairie, a junior forward, entered the Hillsdale game shooting 29.7 percent from the field, but netted a season-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point, in her 17 minutes on the floor.
As a team, the Lakers knocked down 7-of-15 three-pointers, their highest percentage (46.7) of the 2013-14 season.
“Kat has been wonderful in the last two games, to be able to do what she was able to do so regularly for us last year and shoot the three ball so well,” Burgess said. “I think even more than her points, though, her defense stands out.”
Cairnduff, a sophomore transfer from Bowling Green State University, chipped in with a career-high 16 points in the victory to go with five rebounds. She has been the leading scorer for the team in each of its previous three games, and it was the sixth-straight contest in which Cairnduff had tallied at least 10 points.
“Bailey is playing with great confidence right now and her teammates are getting her opportunities to succeed, setting her up,” Burgess said.
Crandall and Lutz combined for nine assists in the game, while Dawson matched her career-high with 11 points and grabbed seven boards.
Tucker, GVSU’s lone freshman starter, contributed eight points to the win. “I love playing with the starters at such an up-tempo pace,” she said. “I was getting in before as a sixth man, but it’s nice to get out there early and help to set the tempo in the game.”
On Friday, the Lakers rounded out their holiday with a 77-68 win against visiting Findlay University, despite surrendering 21 turnovers in the game. As a team, the Lakers shot a season-high 60.9 percent from the field and a new season-high 11-of-23 (47.8 percent) from beyond the arc
The team also tallied a season-high 22 assists and 45 first-half points. For the second-straight game, LaPrairie led all scorers with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting to give her a total of 40 points in a two-game span. It was the highest scoring output by any Laker this season.
Cainduff added 14 points for her seventh-straight double-digit scoring performance to go with eight rebounds, and Dawson chipped in 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting for her fourth double-digit scoring output in a row.
The duo combined with LaPrairie to account for 32 points in the first stanza to give the Lakers a 45-36 lead at halftime.
“I think all of these ladies are reaping the benefits of the hard work they’ve been putting in in the gym,” Burgess said. “These kids have been in the gym, every single one of them, putting in extra shots, improving on defense and really striving to be as great as they can be and it shows.”
Crandall struggled at times to find her shot in the game, but was undeterred from stuffing the stat sheet like a stocking hung on the mantel, hauling in a career-high 12 rebounds and dishing out a season-high seven helpers. Crandall leads GVSU in rebounds and assists, and is second in both points and steals.
“This team has a ton of talent, top to bottom, and for these young pups and newcomers to come out and do what they’re doing is huge,” she said. “At the beginning of the season, my role was to be a scorer, but I love playing with these girls because we help each other balance more traditional roles.
“I’m having an off week, I can admit that – my shooting is not there right now and I don’t know what it is, but effort is there, my rebounds are there, my assists are there and I don’t need to do any more than anyone else. We don’t have one prolific scorer. We have 16 very talented individuals that can score at any given time and that’s an improvement from past years.”
GVSU currently holds the fourth-place spot in the GLIAC North standings.
The Lakers will travel to Ohio to take Walsh University on Thursday and and will stick around to play Malone University on Saturday.
“This upcoming week is just another opportunity for us to compete and get better,” Burgess said. “We’re going to go on the road, which is a great challenge for us, to finish up the south division opponents, and we just have to take them one by one.
“I think we still have so much learning to do right now, but we’re sponges. Our preparation has been tremendous, we continue to get mentally tougher each and every day and I love resilience. We don’t stop, we are not fearful, we enjoy the opportunity to compete and most importantly, this team loves to be together. We just have to keep challenging each other to reach higher and higher for excellence.”