Women's College Basketball

Changes to be embraced as QU women's basketball program strives to rebound

Quincy University women’s basketball coach Jeni Garber will head into her ninth season at the helm tasked with altering the program’s trajectory. Three consecutive losing seasons has put pressure on her to find a way to return the Hawks to the NCAA Tournament. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 17, 2019 2:00 am Updated: Apr. 17, 2019 2:21 am

QUINCY

Jeni Garber knows.

The 18 victories the Quincy University women's basketball program accumulated the past three seasons aren't enough. It falls far below the standard she and her two predecessors created over a 15-year span in which the Hawks made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and enjoyed 11 20-win seasons.

"The challenge is to turn the program back around, to be at the top of the conference where we were a few years ago," Garber said.

Three consecutive seasons with eight or fewer victories typically is the end of the road for a college coach. Garber anxiously wondered if QU vice president of intercollegiate athletics Marty Bell would give her another chance after the Hawks endured a 10-game losing streak to end the season. He's bringing her back for a ninth season, albeit under a larger microscope.

"I re-evaluated everything with Marty," Garber said. "We've re-evaluated every single part of the program."

That includes the growing unrest amongst the fan base. Dwindling crowds and empty sections of Pepsi Arena for home games speaks volumes -- the Hawks averaged 251 fans per home game -- and season ticket holders have understandably questioned the direction of the program. The Hawks beat just four NCAA Division II programs last winter and lost to Culver-Stockton College, an NAIA program, for a third straight year.

"All of the criticism is valid," Garber said. "I know that."

And she knows something has to change. It starts with her and her commitment to coaching, which seems as strong as ever.

"That always crosses your mind," Garber said when asked if she considered whether she wanted to return. "The season wears on you. I think every coach goes through a little down time right after the season. You reflect and you re-evaluate what you're doing, what the program is doing, everything.

"Where do I want my career to go? What are my goals? What are my aspirations? You re-evaluate that and come to terms with it. A couple weeks go by -- I think every coach does this, too -- and you become rejuvenated and refreshed and ready to battle again."

Garber faces a number of battles.

April is a critical month for the future of any college basketball program. Players are deciding if they want to stay. Unsigned recruits are taking visits and weighing their options. Coaches are filling staff vacancies. Teams are engaged in offseason workouts.

The basketball offices become a hub of activity, and Garber is overseeing it all.

She has to because another season like the last three won't be tolerated.

"What gives me faith is I'm motivated to do it and I've been there," Garber said. "I know what it takes. We've been at the top of the conference. We've had a few setbacks, and we're going to build it right back to the top. I'm motivated to do that for myself, for QU, for the community and the players who are involved in the program.

"We want to make this program something people all throughout the community can be proud of."

It starts with being more competitive.

Last season, in the 14-team Great Lakes Valley Conference, the Hawks ranked last in scoring (59 points per game) and last in field goal shooting (37.9 percent). They were 12th in assists (12.2 per game), 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (329 assists to 492 turnovers) and 11th in rebounding margin (minus-1.8).

That's followed an alarming trend. During the 2017-18 season, Quincy ranked 11th in scoring (65 ppg), 12th in field goal shooting (39.3 percent), eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (405 assists/463 turnovers) and 10th in rebounding margin (minus-1.9).

In 2016-17, when the downward spiral began, the Hawks ranked anywhere from 12th to 15th -- the GLVC had 15 members that season -- in each of those telling categories.

Compare those three seasons to the 2015-16 campaign when the Hawks went 25-6, played in the GLVC Tournament championship game and reached the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks ranked third in scoring (70.9 ppg), fifth in field goal shooting (43.0 percent), second in 3-point shooting (39.1 percent), seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (421 assists/471 turnovers) and eighth in rebounding margin (plus-1.6).

That team started four seniors and a junior and brought an All-GLVC sophomore off the bench.

Since then, the lineup has been in flux. So has the roster.

The Hawks completely overhauled their roster following the 2016-17, bringing in 10 freshmen and one junior college transfer. After the season, five freshmen and two others transferred. Quincy was left with only three players with more than one year of experience in the program.

"People transfer for a variety of reasons. Frankly, most of them transferred because they wanted more playing time," Garber said. "I've re-evaluated and I will never have 10 freshmen again in one recruiting class. It really makes it difficult for the team, the locker room, everything."

Being forced to start the recruiting process over from scratch takes a toll, too.

"It crushes your spirit and you have to re-evaluate everything," Garber said. "You question things and you have to re-evaluate to make sure you're giving the player the best experience they can have."

More productive players will make for a better experience.

Each of the eight teams to qualify for the GLVC Tournament in March had at least one starter shoot at least 50 percent from the field. Three teams had two players shoot 50 percent from the field, while Southern Indiana and Bellarmine both had all five starters shoot at least 40 percent from the field.

Quincy had only two starters shoot at least 40 percent -- neither shot better than 43.8 percent -- and another starter who averaged just two field goal attempts per game. The Hawks ranked in the top 10 in only two individual statistical categories with Michaela Gronewold second in 3-point percentage and Alexa Low third in blocked shots.

"We have to go get better recruits," Garber said.

That doesn't pertain to talent alone. Building a recruiting class is about finding personality and commitment along with talent.

"It has to be the right fit," Garber said. "You have to be able to create the right culture."

So far, Garber believes she has signed talented players who will embrace and enhance the culture. That includes Central-Southeastern guard Laney Lantz, a three-time all-state selection who scored more than 2,000 points in her career, and Quincy High School senior forward Sarah Nelson, an All-Western Big Six Conference selection who is versatile as an inside-outside talent at 6-foot.

She needs more players. More scorers. More ballhandlers. More players who don't need time to develop.

That's the challenge. Garber has to recreate the culture to cultivate success. She is adamant it is doable and wants to see the process through. She wants to win.

And she knows it's now or never.

"That's going to take changes in a lot of different areas where we need to improve," Garber said. "It's not one specific thing. It's a combination of things. There is a lot of work to be done."