The Ohio Wesleyan women's basketball team suffered the usual graduation losses from last year's 26-7 squad that reached the NCAA Division III final four.
But the Battling Bishops also suffered an unusual loss: the team's coach, Nan Carney-DeBord, took a faculty sabbatical and is not with the team this season.
The funny thing is Ohio Wesleyan, which includes three local players on its roster, doesn't seem to have skipped a beat. The Bishops are 9-5 this season and are alone in first in the North Coast Conference with a 6-1 mark.
All three local players - sisters Jennifer and Kelly Heil (Southview) and Elizabeth Edinger (Whitmer) - agree that the change to a new coach, Liana Coutts, hasn't hurt the team at all.
"It's not good or bad, it's just different," said Edinger. "The locker room is different and the practices are different, but the offense and defense [we run] is similar. I think this will help us grow and make us stronger."
Jennifer Heil, a junior post player, feels the change has been good. "We have a new look and a new attitude, and the team has responded well to the change," she said. "We have the potential to do anything we put our minds to this season."
The Bishops lost four of their first five games this year as they looked to replace Whitmer grad Jessica Viertlboeck's 18.0 points per game that were lost to graduation. Early on OWU also was without two key players, Katy Sturtz and Mindy Hammond, who were busy leading the women's soccer team to the NCAA Division III national title.
Into that breach stepped Kelly Heil, who led the team in scoring in its first three games. She didn't stop scoring when Sturtz and Hammond returned; she ranks sixth in the NCAC in scoring at 16.4 points per game and is 15th in rebounding at 5.9 per contest.
The freshman also has noticed that the success of last year's team has hung a bull's-eye on the back of this year's club. "Everyone comes out to play their best game against us," she said. "We always have to be ready."
Edinger agrees. "When Kenyon beat us here at home, they acted as if they had won the national championship," she said. "But this is a great team, and we're going to be successful because we have a ton of talent."
Edinger and Jennifer Heil both come off the bench for the Bishops; the older Heil averages 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game while Edinger, a guard, checks in at 2.0 points and 1.4 assists per contest.
Jennifer Heil said her favorite change this season is the opportunity to play on the same team as her sister. "It has been a great experience, one of the best things either of us could have done," she said. "As I look around, sharing experiences, the ups and downs, and the wins with my sister, it's just an amazing thing."
EARNING RESPECT: The Heidelberg wrestling team earned the 22nd spot in the latest Brute-Adidas Division III national poll. And the key word there is earned.
The 'Berg faced five ranked teams last week and won three of those five matches to claim the school's first national wrestling ranking in two years.
Heidelberg won dual matches against Mount Union, Johnson & Wales and Ithaca College. The 'Berg also lost a narrow 22-21 decision to Loras College, which is ranked eighth in the nation.
Fellow Ohio Athletic Conference school Ohio Northern is ranked 18th in the country.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Rogers graduate Justin Chapman of Wayne State was named Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division player of the week on Jan. 7.
The junior forward averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists in leading the Warriors to wins over Ferris State and Grand Valley State.
Chapman currently ranks second on the team in scoring (12.3 ppg) and leads WSU in rebounding (7.3 rpg).