Tigers climbing back to the pinnacle

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Melinda Franke and the Tigers know they are the target of the NCAC this season.
DePauw Athletics photo

By Joe Sager

Getting back to the national championship game is the goal for DePauw’s women.

Over the past two years, the Tigers have taken incremental steps. In 2016, they won the NCAC tournament title, but lost in the NCAA first round. Last year, they won the NCAC title and fell in the NCAA second round.

This group wants to take even more steps this year and get to the national championship game for the first time since DePauw won it in 2013. At 17-1 overall, the Tigers are on a positive trajectory.

“We’re really happy where we are. We started off the season kind of not knowing how we’d be with the young team we have,” junior guard Maya Howard said. “We clicked in the beginning and we’ve had strong chemistry. We just have to continue to do what we’re doing to keep winning.”

One key to the team’s strong run is defense. DePauw allows 50.0 points per game – tops in the NCAC.

“That’s one of our main focuses this year,” DePauw senior forward Melinda Franke said. “Earlier in the season, our defense was kind of lacking. That’s what we work on every day in practice – defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball and free throws. We’ve been doing well with that.”

The Tigers enjoy getting after it on defense.

“Coach (Huffman) is a real stickler about defense. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships and I think we stand by that,” Howard said. “We work on rebounding and boxing out a lot. Defense is really a key to our game. We make sure we take teams out of what they want to run, but don’t let them take us out of we want to run.”

The Tigers play suffocating defense, but they can score, too.
DePauw Athletics photo

DePauw has had success on offense, too. The Tigers average 66.7 points per game. Howard (14.1 ppg) is the leading scorer, but freshman Claire Keefe (12.6), sophomore Sydney Kopp (12.1) and senior Emily Budde (10.4) average in double digits as starters. Franke is at 4.1 ppg, but leads the team at 6.5 rebounds per game.

“That’s something that’s been great this year. If you look at all three starting guards in Emily, Sydney and Maya, they are all great offensive threats. Claire Keefe has been amazing as a freshman, too,” Franke said. “I’ve been working on becoming more of an offensive option this year, too. Having so many options is one thing that does work to our advantage.”

“We have some pretty good scorers on the team,” added Howard. “One night, it could be me or Emily, Sydney or someone else leading the way. If one person is going off, we make a point to get them the ball more often. We have a lot of chemistry on the team. If someone is hot, we let them keep shooting.

“We really tried to work on getting the ball into the post this year. We think we can do a lot when the ball goes inside. This year, we’re really working on not only shooting well, but getting the ball into the post to get some extra movement and create shots.”

Experience has been an important part of the team’s success, too. Franke, Howard, and Kopp all started on last year’s squad that went 27-3 and lost to Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 64-49, in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Kylie Morris and Budde didn’t start, but played considerable minutes.

“It’s a lot easier, considering Maya has been our main point guard for a couple years. Kylie and I bring experience at forward. We have a lot of players who have experience and I think that’s made it easier for the younger payers,” Franke said. “We made it to the second round last year and that was great for us. Playing in those big games is a lot fun. It’s something we look forward to.”

The Tigers know the road to another NCAC title and NCAA tournament run won’t be easy.

“The second time through conference, that’s when every team has us circled on their calendar,” Franke said. “Every team is going to give us their best. We have to prepare for every team, no matter their record. We have to prepare for every team the same way because we are going to get their best.”

Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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