About the only thing more daunting than actually playing against the Marquette women’s team is trying to scout them.
For the 2018-19 season, there are five proven, confident and determined seniors suiting up, the fruit of head coach Carolyn Kieger’s incisive recruiting eye that has already produced four 1,000-point scorers. And by the way, the fifth player – Danielle King – is just 17 points away from that threshold.
Those players create a lot of data to digest, but there’s even worse news looming for opponents, because Kieger thinks her bench is primed to deliver more than moral support. If the Golden Eagles can bring the heat with their subs as well as their studs, it’ll take some creativity to cool them down.
Allazia Blockton should top 2,000 points in career scoring this year and is the reigning Big East player of the year; Natisha Hiedeman averaged 13.4 point per game last year, Amani Wilborn added 12.3 points per game, and Erika Davenport came through with 11.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest. It seems hard to imagine how a bench player can break into that mix, but Kieger can’t wait for that development.
“It is a very unique situation, the way the class ended up and how they stuck together. It speaks volumes for who they are as players, how they share the ball and how they grew up together,” said Kieger, whose team was ranked 19th in the AP preseason poll after going 24-10 last year and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “Allazia will be a 2,000-point scorer, so we’ll be losing a lot of offense next year. They bring effort every day, have grown as leaders and are the catalyst to how we rebuilt the culture here. They will be the standard for years to come.
“Our bench will bring help. Selena Lott will be a sophomore; she’s one of the best defenders in the country, and she’s added some offense to her arsenal. I could see her playing 20-30 minutes a game. Isabelle Spingola has (evolved) from being just a 3-point shooter to being able to rebound, put the ball on the floor and do more for us on the defensive end. Lauren Van Kleunen is someone I think will step up and make a big impact. Those three kids alone will give us a different feel than we had last year, from a confidence standpoint.”
Some extra, deep faith in themselves will be mandatory at times this year, as Marquette has a profoundly difficult schedule. Outside of the tough Big East slate, there’s a 20-day stretch where the team will play Michigan, No. 6 Mississippi State, Green Bay and defending NCAA champion and preseason No. 1 Notre Dame.
Quite the contrast from Kieger’s first year in 2014-15, when the Golden Eagles were 9-23 overall and miles away from exhibiting that type of competitive pulse.
“Two years ago, we were 6-0 versus Top 25 teams and got a 5 seed (in the NCAA Tournament). For us, a goal is to host an NCAA Tournament game that first weekend, the first two rounds,” Kieger said. “We wanted to challenge ourselves against Top 10 teams. And then, we want to get past the second round and play against the nation’s best, and in order to do that you have to challenge yourself. This year, we want it to be a catapult for the future, and this is a great team to do it. We are experienced – I wanted to show the team I believe we can play with anyone in the country. And if I believe it, we got to do it.”
“It’s a great feeling Coach has that much faith in us to go against some of the top teams in the country. If we want to get to the Sweet 16 and Final Four, those are the teams you play against to get there,” Blockton said. “You take it as a challenge, and we want to rise to it. Coach has been challenging us since our freshman year. It’s great for momentum going into the conference, seeing what we are made of playing games like that.”
Blockton was a terror last year in so many ways – averaging 19.1 points per game, she shot 39 percent from 3-point range, 86 percent from the free-throw line and added 6.2 rebounds a contest. She also keyed the mindset of a swarming defense that forced more than 17 turnovers per game.
Blockton and Wilborn have known each other since sixth grade and were on the same recruiting trip to Minnesota when they began to dial in on Marquette as the best college destination.
“My freshman year … I was not ready at all as a freshman. The conditioning took me a while to catch up. But I knew I could play and could score,” Blockton said. “The first couple games were rough and we went 0-4. Then we went to Miami and the Turkey Slam – we won both games, and I was MVP. That’s when it clicked. I knew I’d be successful in college, but not how fast. At that moment, I knew I could take this team to different heights.
“I use (honors and awards) to make me more determined. I can always get better. And it’s something that gives me confidence that I can lean back on. On those days where I’m not shooting the ball well or just aren’t my (normal) self for a few minutes, I can just think back to past successes and snap right out of it. I know I am a good player and do what I need to do.”
“Allazia is an elite-level scorer who can do it so many different ways. We always knew she was going to be good, but no one could foresee all she could do and the impact she’s had in not only our program but in the league,” Kieger added. “She’s one of the best guards in the country and is a self-motivated player. Very early on in her freshman year – some kids come in a little gun-shy, but she has never been afraid to have the ball in her hands in key moments, and she never took a back seat in terms of production, or how to work in the weight room. We saw it pretty early, and it’s been about mentoring her and helping her get to the top level of her game.”
More will be learned as Marquette kicks off its run in the 2018 Preseason WNIT on Friday, Nov. 9 against Montana State. Interestingly, the Golden Eagles dropped their exhibition game to D-II Grand Valley State, but were back in form for their regular-season opener, a 91-52 thrashing of Summit League power South Dakota State.