By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Time changed Lucy Cramsey's outlook.
Had you told the Quincy University redshirt junior guard before her freshman season that she'd eventually be playing for a basketball team that was going to win with defense, she admits she probably wouldn't have been all that jazzed about the idea.
"If you would've asked me that a couple of years ago, I would've said yes," Cramsey said when asked if the Lady Hawks' style of winning may be a little boring. "But the older I got, the smarter I got."
Now, Cramsey is one of several Lady Hawks who value the importance of defense.
And really, when is winning ever boring?
The Lady Hawks are in first place in the Great Lakes Valley Conference's West Division. They take an 11-8 overall record and 9-2 GLVC mark into this week's two-game road swing in which they'll face William Jewell (12-7, 6-5) on Thursday and Rockhurst (6-13, 3-8) on Saturday.
Since the start of the 2007-08 season, Quincy is 80-21 in GLVC play. The means to the end have changed though.
From the 2007-08 season -- the first year of the JD Gravina era -- through last season, the Lady Hawks led the GLVC in scoring every season, setting a program record at 86.3 points per game in 2010-11. Quincy also was in the top two in the league in total 3-pointers made in each of those seasons.
It's not that Gravina's teams were poor defensively. In fact, all four of his Quincy teams ranked in the top seven of the league in field-goal percentage defense. Yet, partially because of his teams' up-tempo, bombs-away style, QU only once ranked in the top nine in the league in scoring defense during the Gravina era.
A change in coaching staffs and a major turnover in personnel after last season yielded a different style.
This year's QU squad is surrendering 62.2 points per game. That figure ranks only 11th in the GLVC -- scoring is down across the league this season -- but if that average holds, it would be the Lady Hawks' best scoring defense average since the 2004-05 team allowed 56.9 points per game.
Defense was always supposed to be the calling card for this year's team under second-year coach Jeni Garber.
But that wasn't the case for QU in its first seven non-conference games. The Lady Hawks went 1-6, allowing an average of 68 points per game, and their opponents combined to make 45.8 percent of their field-goal attempts.
Then came QU's 84-37 victory over Hannibal-LaGrange in its final non-conference game on Dec. 17. The Lady Hawks limited the Lady Trojans to 25 percent shooting, and it seemed to show QU that it had to embrace a defense-first mentality.
"It was all just a process that we had to go through," Garber said. "I think they see the value in it now."
Since the start of GLVC play, QU is surrendering 60.8 points per game, which ranks sixth in the league for conference-only stats. GLVC opponents are shooting just 37.2 percent from the field against QU, giving the Lady Hawks' the league's third-best field-goal percentage defense in conference play.
"Coming back after Christmas, it finally just clicked for everybody, like, ‘We can be really good at this,'" QU junior center Hannah Weedman said.
Weedman has played a hand in Quincy's defensive surge. The 6-foot-4 transfer from Division I Evansville has experienced a significant increase in minutes since the start of league play as she adjusted to QU's system.
"Our guards know she's behind them back there to help out," Garber said. "She's an intimidating force even when she's just standing there with her hands straight up. It alters shots. It makes the guards penetrating in there a little bit more hesitant."
QU junior guard Felisha Loggins said the Lady Hawks' defensive intensity increased in practice right before GLVC play started. That intensity carried over into games.
"Once we all got back (from a holiday break), it was there," Loggins said. "It was more competitive in practice. It was more intense. There was more aggression there. I just think we all needed a break, and it worked for us."
The QU coaching staff also spent more time working on defense as the season progressed.
Quincy has a lot of new faces this season, with four true freshmen and Weedman in its top-eight rotation. As such, a lot of time in early-season practices was spent trying to get those players familiar with Quincy's system.
"At the beginning of the year, everybody's focus is offense, and especially with the young team like we have, it's about gelling together and trying to figure out what their roles are going to be," Garber said. "They have so many thoughts going on that defense is one of their last thoughts."
That's no longer the case, not after the Lady Hawks have seen the impact playing good defense can have.
QU is 11-0 this season in games in which it limits its opponents to less than 42.5 percent shooting.
"The (turning point) was losing six (non-conference) games, and we were like, ‘If we don't listen to what the coaches are telling us, we're going to keep losing,'" Cramsey said. "It's a whole team mentality that we had to change up."