Women's College Basketball

Rejuvenated Hawks ready to take flight

SIUE Womens Basketball v Quincy 5 NOV 2019
Quincy University forward Alexa Low, left, and guard Maddie Spagnola, center, attempt to stop SIU-Edwardsville’s Bria Stallworth from driving during Tuesday’s exhibition game at the Vadalabene Center. Low and Spagnola are two of the Hawks’ top returnees and will need to be factors at both ends of the floor. | Photo for the H-W/Scott Kane, SIUE Athletics
Scott Kane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 8, 2019 12:01 am

QUINCY -- There was no mass exodus this offseason. It was more of a mass awakening.

Jeni Garber rekindled her love of coaching and discovered this Quincy University women's basketball team is willing to be coached. The Hawks embraced the new members of the coaching staff, going as far as dressing up to resemble assistant coach Kelly Kielsmeier for Halloween.

And the unity and camaraderie missing the past two seasons appears as strong as ever in and out of the locker room.

"I'm definitely rejuvenated," said Garber, who is entering her ninth season as the head coach and trying to recover from three straight losing seasons. "I can get back to coaching and doing what I love, and that's teaching the game. They are responding to it.

"We have assistant coaches willing to bring in new ideas and fresh ideas. Everyone is really good with that."

It's created a totally different vibe.

A year ago, Garber was forced to replace seven players who chose not to return after the 2017-18 season. It forced her to go with a young lineup with unproven scorers who struggled with consistency. The Hawks went 5-22 with only two players averaging in double figures.

However, the top five scorers eligible to return did and Garber recruited one of this area's all-time leading scorers to help energize the offense. Laney Lantz is already doing that.

The freshman guard from Central-Southeastern scored 23 points in the 70-65 exhibition victory over SIU-Edwardsville and has shot 62.5 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90.9 percent from the free-throw line in two exhibition games.

Lantz makes her official college debut at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Ursuline College in the Midwest Regional Crossover at Pepsi Arena.

"She kind of sets the tone with her mentality and her work ethic," Garber said. "She and the upperclassmen do that and the rest of the team follows along with that. She has blended in well and is doing some things better than I anticipated at this time of year."

Defense is high on that list.

"She's very ahead of the game on defense," Garber said. "She's one of the better defenders just with being aggressive and staying in front and not fouling them and bailing them out. She's done a really good job of being able to do that."

Lantz fits in well with a feisty backcourt.

Junior point guard Maddie Spagnola is the team's top returning scorer, having averaged 12.4 points, while junior guard Aleksandra Petrovic was instant offense off the bench, averaging 8.6 points. But it's the willingness of both to rebound and stick their nose in the play defensively that is equally important.

"We have to have the guards rebounds," Garber said. "We're undersized most nights, but we put an emphasis on rebounding and making sure we block out. The guards have as big a role in that as anyone."

The only true size the Hawks have is 6-foot-3 senior forward Alexa Low, who averaged 7.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Her presence defensively is crucial as she blocked 60 shots last season and has 114 blocks in her career.

She'll get some help from senior forward Ella Gobald and a pair of 6-foot freshmen -- Marta Rivera and Quincy High School product Sarah Nelson -- but the Hawks are going to have to score in transition and let the defense produce points to offset the lack of size.

"We have to be scrappy and we can't be afraid to get in there and be physical," Garber said.

An aggressive mentality is needed to get the program back on the right track.

"It's been a good preseason with our mentality, our buy-in and our chemistry with everyone being determined to win and do what's necessary to come together to get that done," Garber said.