Winning at any level of college basketball is tough.
Defiance College women’s basketball has discovered this over the past 11 years. Since the 2009-10 season, the Yellow Jackets have recorded only three winning seasons and two wins at the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament.
However, with a trio of seniors and contributors behind them, Defiance (11-6, 6-4) are off to their best start since that 2009-10 campaign. The Jackets do this by fostering a family atmosphere that has led to a deep roster full of great contributors to the team.
Nysha Speed, Taylor Day and Briawna Francis were all drafted into the roster in 2018 and they suffered heavy losses straight away, dropping their first six games.
It was also the first six games for head coach Allan King Jr., who is currently in his fourth year at the helm of the program.
But behind a large group of upperclass men, the Yellow Jackets managed to partially right the ship, going 10-11 the rest of the way and advancing to the conference tournament where they won their first tournament game since. 2010 before falling in the semi-finals.
It was a good turnaround for DC, and it showed the team’s young players that despite some of the bad seasons that preceded them, victory could be had on Webster Street.
“Our first year with Coach King he only recruited Nysha (Speed) and Taylor (Day) but the rest of us were someone else’s recruits so we were thrown into a new system “said Francis, who had signed up before King was named head. coach. “We came into the conference tournament after a lot of losses because our seniors were great and had a great path.”
Although they tasted like winning to end their freshman years, victory would have to wait as the team signed 10 freshmen next season and with a young roster only got 7-18 and missed the conference tournament.
“But the next few years we were so young,” Francis said. “We were outnumbered among the upper classes by our freshman and what do you do with the expectations when you’re outnumbered by those who don’t know the expectations?”
The talent, though young, was clearly there, as sophomore Day led the team in scoring and rebounding (9 ppg, 5 rpg) with freshmen Lexie Sparks (8.1 ppg) and Taylor Steinbrunner (7.1 ppg) right behind her in scoring. Rookie Nicole Sims led the way in assists with 2.2.
With more development, they knew they could blossom into a team that could compete at the top of the conference, but the following year had other plans.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world and sport as a whole. Defiance was able to get a short season, but with little development in the offseason due to the lockdown, the team only went 2-9 and fell in the first round of the HCAC tournament.
Entering 2021-22 with a closer to normal off-season, the juniors who have not had the chance to fully develop have been able to progress and it has been seen: especially in speed.
The 5-5 senior guard’s best season came in the COVID-shortened year where she scored five points per game and averaged 3.4 rebounds per game. In 2021, those numbers skyrocketed as she scored in double figures in eight of the teams’ first 10 games and notched double-doubles in five of them.
The Sterling Heights, Michigan native scored a career-high 22 points in a win over St. Mary’s (Ind.) and in the same game grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds.
The increase in production stems from a change in his own mentality heading into this season.
“I continue to work hard just for me. Not fit for basketball as a primary goal, but for my own physical and mental health,” Speed said. “I just want to stay active and not let my past years define me. I shouldn’t have waited until my senior year but I’m glad I made the changes I made because it also affected field.
“I also think I’m very underrated because of my height. So I also want to be like, ‘OK, just because you’re taller than me doesn’t mean anything.’ That kind of thinking and knowing that it would give me the opportunity to play more allowed me to do more for the team.
It’s that tough mindset that has allowed him to grab nine rebounds per game this season and score 12.1 points despite his small stature.
Off the pitch though, it’s a different story.
“If you watch Nysha play, she’s aggressive, fierce and tough. And that’s what we need because we have a really great group of young women, but they need someone who is just tough and aggressive. like that,” King said. “But if you meet Nysha, she’s the sweetest, easy-going, calm, soft-spoken girl.
The other two seniors on the team also made an impact in their own right, and they did so by putting the team first.
Taylor Day, who started all but two games for the Yellow Jackets in his first three seasons, started this year off the bench. Day, a West Mansfield native and Richwood North Union graduate, led the team in scoring and rebounding in her sophomore season, and this year she’s third on the team in scoring (9.1 ppg) and second in rebounding (5.1 rpg).
She has started nine of the team’s 17 games this year, most in the past month due to players testing positive for COVID-19. However, the new role was a welcome sight for the senior guard.
“Honestly, I like coming off the bench because you see the game in a different light. You can see what people are already doing, so when you come into the game you already know what your role in this game should be. »
That showed this season as Day led the team with seven assists in a Jan. 26 win over Mont Saint-Joseph without scoring a single point. Four days prior, Day led the Jackets with 11 points in a win over Franklin.
“It’s vital to have someone who can adapt to every role and from his first day here Taylor has done that,” King said.
Day also has the highest basketball IQ on the team, according to King, and is often able to calm the team down in tense moments.
“When I say something, she’s the first to get it at all times, so it’s great to have someone on the same page as you and being able to perform some of these harder things” , King said. “And if you know her personality you know she likes to have fun, when things get tight she makes a little joke in the group and everyone relaxes. She is so calm during the storm.
The last senior in the group, Francis, may have posted the least impressive stats, but had an impact far beyond the hardwood.
“A lot of my teammates call me mum on the team because if they need anything they know I’m there. And that’s really important because while we’re here, we’re all learning to be adults and to be independent. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need someone just to help you, even if it’s something small,” said Francis, an Indianapolis native.
King, who has seen Francis give so much to the team over the past four years, sees that too, and despite having limited playing time to start the season, Francis made an impact down the stretch, scoring eight points in of their last victory against Hanover. last Saturday.
“It’s a dream for the coaches because she doesn’t really care what happens to Bri Francis. She cares about what’s going on with her teammates and our team. And she put the team first for four years,” King said. “One of my favorite moments against Hannover was watching Bri Francis play a massive game. I’m going to be miserable without her next year because I’ve gotten so used to seeing her efforts and I don’t need to train him because his efforts show the way.
Arguably the most important feature of this senior Defiance class was making playing Defiance feel like playing as a family. That’s why they built such a deep roster that saw juniors Taylor Steinbrunner (12.2 ppg), Nicole Sims (5.5 ppg), Lexie Sparks (8.1 ppg) and Lauren Criblez (5.3 ppg ) as well as sophomores McKenzie Cooper (7.2 ppg), Kylie Brinkman (6.8 ppg) and Napoleon graduate Cait Good (3.4 ppg) are having such an impact this year.
“One thing they’ve been for me is really good recruiters,” King said. “When kids come to campus, they hang out with this group and it’s a great group. Some of these successful kids here with them are here because they wanted to play with them.