2017-18 IN REVIEW: Ashland University's women's basketball team was 36-1 overall and 20-0 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Eagles were the NCAA Division II runner-up, and winners of Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season, GLIAC Tournament and Midwest Regional tournament championships. Ashland had won 73 consecutive games, fifth-most in a row in the history of NCAA basketball, prior to the national title game.
"Last year was a great season," said Ashland head coach Kari Pickens. "Whether we won the last game or not, I always like to talk about the journey. I never want the main focus to be about how the season ends. I want it to be how the season as a whole was."
AN ENCORE FOR JOHNSON…AND THE EAGLES? For the second time this decade, the Eagles have a returning Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) national Player of the Year. In 2012-13, it was Pickens, then Kari Daugherty. In 2018-19, it will be junior guard Jodi Johnson. Johnson, also the 2017-18 GLIAC Player of the Year, led Division II in steals per game (3.73), while averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest, and shooting 60.3 percent from the field, 58.1 percent from 3-point range and 84.8 percent from the free-throw line.
In 2012-13, Pickens returned to win the WBCA honor again, and the Eagles won their first D-II national title – the year after being the national runner-up. In 2018-19…
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018-19: Pickens is prepping for her first season as head coach, following two seasons as a player and five as an assistant coach.
"It's been a really good transition," she said. "I keep telling people I coach the best girls, and my coaching staff has been wonderful to be able to work with every day. I am just excited for basketball season to get here."
Ashland will have three returning starters in Johnson, senior guard Maddie Dackin and junior guard Renee Stimpert, and overall, brings back 68.8 percent of its minutes, 60.5 percent of its points, 62 percent of its rebounds, 72 percent of its assists, and 71.1 percent of its steals from 2017-18.
The Eagles will have a new starting lineup, having graduated All-American forwards Laina Snyder and Andi Daugherty, as well as perhaps the best off-the-bench player in program history in forward Julie Worley.
Pickens, however, isn't saying whether those forwards will be replaced in the starting five with forwards.
"It's such a long way away in regards to finding the best five together," she said. "I'm just excited to see them battle it out. There's a lot of girls who have put in a lot of hard work for two to three years now, and they're ready for their opportunity to step into new roles.
"I want the best five players on the court. I don't know who those five are going to be, but I know we're going to have a lot of depth."
The Eagles bring back senior guard Brooke Smith, junior guard/forwards Sara Loomis and Sarah Hart, and sophomore forward Karlee Pireu. AU's six newcomers are sophomore forward Sara Price, a transfer from NCAA Division I Ball State, and freshmen Kelseigh Wright (forward), Erin Daniels (guard), Hallie Heidemann (guard), Sage Brannon (guard), and Kayla Sanders (forward).
Ashland could also be buoyed by the return to redshirt freshman point guard Maddie Blyer, who missed the entire 2017-18 season due to injury.
"I have never seen someone as thrilled to be back on the court as Maddie has been," Pickens said. "We're really excited to have her on the court this season."