New seasons can bring new roles in team sports.
In 2018-19, Ashland University sophomore Karlee Pireu has had to adjust to two new roles in a short period of time – and has done so successfully for the No. 6-ranked Eagle women's basketball team.
After a freshman season in which she played in 30 games and 7.6 minutes per contest, Pireu began this campaign as one of the first players off the bench. Since the start of Christmas/New Year's break, however, she has started five of the last seven games, and has taken to that new role well. In five games as a starter, Pireu is averaging 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, and shooting 61.9 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line.
"It's a really cool opportunity that I am thankful for," Pireu said. "It's obviously a little different. Coming off the bench, you can see the game a little differently."
Overall this season, Pireu ranks third in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in field-goal percentage (56.8) and second in free-throw percentage (88.1).
"Karlee's improvement is evident by her statistical efficiency," said Ashland head coach Kari Pickens. "To be shooting 57 percent from the field, 88 percent from the free-throw line, and to be averaging over five rebounds a game is a testament to all of the hard work that KP has put in, and the goals that she has set out to accomplish."
Coming to Ashland from Massillon Perry High School, Pireu had to wait her turn as a freshman behind three of the best forwards in program history – All-Americans Laina Snyder and Andi Daugherty, and Julie Worley, one of the top off-the-bench players in the 50-plus seasons of Ashland women's basketball.
"I knew I wanted to play for a winning program," said Pireu, "but more importantly, (I wanted) a culture that is more than just about basketball, and Ashland was the perfect fit for that. I knew coming to Ashland, I was going to have great friends, both on and off the court, I was going to play for a really competitive team, and I knew I was going to be able to grow in my faith here, which really meant a lot to me.
"My freshman year was not a typical freshman year. I kind of had a feeling I wouldn't come in playing right away. I'm just thankful for the opportunity to play against the three of them every day. By the end of the year, I had such a transformation in my game."
Not only did Pireu work against those three veteran forwards, she also has put in a lot of time in the gym against her head coach, a two-time NCAA Division II Player of the Year during her playing career at Ashland.
"It's awesome to have that opportunity to work 1-on-1 with her," Pireu said. "She was a phenomenal post player, and player in general, here at Ashland, so to get that 1-on-1 work and attention, I'm really able to focus on moves that not only help the team, but reflect my style of game. It's helped really elevate my game."
"One thing that can always be said of KP is that she is incredibly coachable," Pickens said. "She comes into every workout with the intent to learn and get better, and she has done that extremely well during her time here. Too many players come into workouts with the intent of 'just getting by,' but KP has the mindset of growth, which is why she has gotten so much better.
"I am very proud of her for that."
In 11 games off the bench this season, Pireu scored in double figures five times, setting her up for early success as a starter – including her first career double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds) on Thursday (Jan. 10) at Parkside.
"In the starting lineup, KP brings an aggressive post mentality from the tip," said Pickens. "Teams have to be prepared to guard inside from the get-go, and have to figure out a way to defend without fouling, because KP does such a great job of drawing contact."
Pireu's work ethic is emphasized by her coaches and teammates, and that extends to the student part of being a student-athlete. Pireu sports a 3.98 cumulative grade-point average as a Marketing major.
"That's definitely the biggest characteristic that I care about," she said. "I love for them to walk away seeing how hard I work. Our whole team is filled with student-athletes who care about their grades in the classroom and performance on and off the court.
"Seeing how hard they work, it pushes me to not only be better for myself, but be better for them."