By Jake Bedell
It’s interesting to see how sports teams develop over time. At the professional level, organizations can trade, make draft picks, extend contracts, and more. The system is very complex.
At the collegiate level, it’s often more difficult for teams who tend to struggle to dig themselves out of a rut. Schools can find new recruits and make changes to their coaching staff, but there is little beyond such things that are at the disposal of programs.
Butler was a school to break ground.
When the men’s basketball team made back-to-back runs at the National Championship in 2010 and 2011, the university was the smallest school to make it that far since the tournament had expanded to 64 teams. The small midwestern school in the Horizon League was able to build a program that would see growing success over time.
This season has been a similar case for the women’s basketball team at Butler. The team currently sits at 17-5 on the season, after finishing 6-25 in 2016/17, and 16-17 in 2017/18. A massive turnaround in the program’s success has raised eyebrows across campus. In 2017 the average attendance for a game was 581 people according to the NCAA. In 2018 that number increased to 776. Now in 2019 and only halfway through the conference schedule, the ladies’ games now average 860 attendees.
To put it simply, people are taking notice of the change happening with the women’s basketball team. So what is different?
Butler forward Tori Schickel believes a new culture has lead to the success this season.
“Our mindset has completely changed. We had a coaching staff change two years ago and they’ve forced changes…and pushed us outside our comfort zone,” she said. New methods of training, nutrition habits, and strategies for gameplay, have all been a part of building the team.
The offseason was a pivotal time for the Dawgs. After losing to Marquette in last season’s Big East tournament, Butler was sent home to reevaluate the season and make necessary changes. Schickel pointed out that despite the team feeling down after the loss, they knew that they had the necessary tools to be successful in the near future.
The first step was to restructure their defense. They felt comfortable in their abilities to score consistently, but the team would struggle to lock down in their own end. “We spent a majority of our offseason working on defense,” Schickel said. “It has definitely been worth it. We’re making people uncomfortable and forcing them to drive baseline, which normally you wouldn’t want to do. It kind of switched everything we had been taught the first three years [in the program].” With the offensive confidence combined with the adapted defense, the Dawgs looked forward to the season that lay ahead.
In the regular season, team chemistry has been an essential part of the team’s success. They understand that with hard work comes great reward. One such example was how the Dawgs regrouped following their first loss of the season against Indiana. Despite falling to the Hoosiers, they’d follow it up by going on a 9-game winning streak, including a huge win over Creighton 75-43. In practice sessions, the coaches enforce good team communication and teamwork. The staff will even do push-ups or run sprints with the players.
Awareness has also been a key element to the players growing and developing. While the ball may be on one side of the court, the defense needs to ensure they cover passes efficiently, and don’t give up scoring chances to opponents on their weak side. “This team is proactive and can acclimate their skill sets to every opponent,” said Butler Athletics Social Media Host Chelsea Groves. “The dribble-drive mentality is there, and everyone is sure enough of themselves to take the open shot.”
A quick glance at the statistics so far this season and it’s no surprise why the Dawgs are winning games. Butler out-scores opponents by an average of 12.8 points per game. This is in part due to their field goal percentage which sits at 42.8 percent compared to the average opponent’s 35.8 percent against them. They also retrieve about 7 more rebounds per game, and average a total of 39 each time they take the court.
A new culture, a strong mentality, aggressiveness, and more, have lead to the women’s success throughout their 2018-19 campaign. They are all the tools of a quality program. If what the Dawgs have showcased through the first 22 games remains consistent, perhaps Butler will be featured in March yet again.