Vikings commit to chemistry, defense
By Samah Assad
When senior forward Shalonda Winton showed up a few minutes late to stretching practice before women basketball’s exhibition game against Ursuline College on Sunday, Nov. 4, head coach Kate Peterson Abiad made an example of her.
Winton, usually a starter and role player who averages around 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, found herself on the bench until Abiad decided to put her in later on.
“I needed [the team] to see that I will take you out of the lineup even if you’re our best player and if you’re not able to do the little things,” Abiad said. “It was a good teachable moment and why she came off the bench.”
Abiad takes moments like these and shapes them into leadership lessons for the squad going into this season. With only three seniors on the roster, leadership and chemistry is crucial for the Vikings’ success as it is something they did not see much of last year.
“They didn’t have a group of players who showed them this is how we do things here,” Abiad explained. “So I need to make it clear how we operate.”
Along with this prime leadership focus, the Vikings look to battle the demon that was the root of many losses last season — poor defense and lack of chemistry.
According to Abiad, the team aimed to make defense a priority to compete in the Horizon League, but walked away from their first exhibition game against Walsh feeling that their defensive play was not at its highest possible level despite their 83-67 victory.
“I think it was a big wake up call for them because we set some goals this year defensively,” Abiad said. “Walsh just picked us apart, and from a coaching standpoint, it was the perfect way to get across our point that we’re not really committed to defense.”
After breaking down the film of that game, Abiad realized that the problem was not that the team wasn’t playing defense, but that they weren’t doing it as a unit. Instead, players individually pressured the ball instead of helping each other on the defensive end of the floor.
Focusing on the opposite end of the floor in practice had the team enter their Sunday game with a stronger defensive mindset. Thus, the scoreboard read a 66-33 blowout by Cleveland State at the Wolstein Center.
“We didn’t have situations where [Ursuline] went on a run and we couldn’t stop them,” Abiad said. “That was a big lesson we need to learn going into the season.”
This was heavily due to sophomore guard Kiersten Green taking on the leadership role and defending the ball full court. Green harassed the point, and in the team’s game against Walsh, she recorded seven steals. This intensity is sure to rub off on the team as a whole.
“Kiersten has shown us a whole new angle of what we can do by putting the pressure on the ball at point,” Abiad said. “She is contributing so much on the defensive end that I think her production on the offensive end is secondary.”
Once the defense is perfected, Abiad believes chemistry that the team has not had in recent years will follow suit. Due to an injury-plagued season and a constant change of lineups last year, Abiad noticed that a much needed camaraderie was not evident. The Vikings gave up an average of around 68 points per game on defense last year. Abiad credits their inability to stop teams defensively as the main reason why they saw consecutive losses and blowouts.
This year, with a healthy squad and a better mapped out rotation, Abiad hopes that the Vikings can find a place in the Mid-Major Poll just as they had two years ago when they were winning championships. In order to do this, the Vikings must commit to chemistry on and off the court, and defense must become a habit.
“We’re talking about, do you want to set yourselves apart as one of the top major programs in the country, or do you want to be that team that was a flash in the pan and now you’re not?” Abiad said. “If that’s what you want to do, then you have to improve your defense.”