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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2011

Falcons not afraid of rebuilding yet again

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Chrissy Steffen, a preseason All-MAC East selection, is the only returning starter for the Falcons. Chrissy Steffen, a preseason All-MAC East selection, is the only returning starter for the Falcons.
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BOWLING GREEN -- The Bowling Green State University women's basketball team graduated six seniors who combined for 5,812 points, 2,854 rebounds, and 695 assists -- not to mention three Mid-American Conference titles and 103 victories.

That spells doom for the Falcons, right?

Hardly. Those are the numbers from the group that graduated following the 2007 season. All that followed was another outstanding group that racked up 5,469 points, 2,246 rebounds, and 927 assists -- along with 110 wins and two more MAC crowns.

So losing four starters and six letterwinners from last season's team, which posted a 28-5 record and was 13-3 in the MAC while earning the program's fifth NCAA Tournament berth in seven seasons, isn't quite as daunting a task as it may seem.

"We've done this twice before, actually," coach Curt Miller said. "The first time was with Ali Mann, Liz Honegger and those guys as freshmen. Then we had to do it again when that tremendous team that took us to the Sweet 16 [of the NCAA Tournament] graduated."

It won't be easy, though, as the Falcons build around only one senior, guard Jessica Slagle, and just one returning starter, junior guard Chrissy Steffen.

"It's scary but exciting at the same time," said Miller, whose team is the preseason pick to win the MAC East division. "I've been very happy with the work ethic of our young team. The one thing you need [with a young team] is work ethic -- and they come to work, to get better every day.

"But we have a lot of teaching to do."

Slagle, who averaged 3.8 points per game a year ago, said one of her biggest responsibilities as a captain has been to teach the program's culture to the team, which includes five freshmen and four sophomores.

"We're all about a championship locker room here, and bonding, getting to know each other, and [developing] team chemistry is very important to our success here," Slagle said.

On the court, Miller said the challenge has been determining how quickly to install his team's offenses and defenses.

"Do you put in a little and try to do it well? Or do you put in a lot and not do any of it real well?" he asked. "We put in a lot, and now we're going back and really trying to have them understand why we need to run a certain play or how we need to execute it rather than just running it."

One of the keys to the offense will be Steffen, a preseason All-MAC East Division choice who averaged 10.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game a year ago. Other returning options include forwards Allison Papenfuss, a junior from Anthony Wayne who averaged 2.7 points and 2.0 rebounds per contest last season, and Danielle Havel, a junior who added 2.1 points and 2.1 rebounds, as well as sophomore center Jill Stein, who had 1.2 points and 1.1 rebounds per game.

Alexis Rogers, a sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from Duke, is expected to make an immediate impact. But a number of players will get an opportunity to have an impact on a club whose identity is shaping up to be different.

"We have more versatility at the defensive end because we're more athletic, so we can try some different things this year," Miller said. "We'll have to score in different positions than we did [last year] when we were very guard-oriented."

How will it all come together? Miller said that's what the non-conference schedule, which begins Friday at Dayton, is for.

"We won't panic that we will be a better team in January than we are in November," Miller said. "That's the process of rebuilding. You use the 13 nonconference games to get ready for a very challenging conference run."

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com or 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.



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