Around the Region
Polar Bears prepared for another postseason plunge
|Lindsey Black joined the starting lineup and helped lead the Polar Bears to another 20-win season.
Ohio Northern Athletics photo
By Joe Sager
After reaching the Elite 8 in the NCAA tourney last year, Ohio Northern’s women have their goals set even higher this season.
At 20-3 overall, the Polar Bears seem in position to make another run.
The squad retained three starters from that team in Courtney Cramer, Jenna Dirksen and Amy Bullimore. Lindsey Black, Abby Weeks, Tori Wyss and Cheyenne Raker played key minutes for the team last year as well as this season, with Black and Wyss moving into the starting lineup.
“There are a lot of pieces back from last year, which has been really helpful. It’s been really fun and we play well together,” Bullimore said. “I think (the playoff run last year) helped us because we knew we were capable of it. We wanted to get to the Final Four and national championship. We know we’ll have to fight and battle hard this year.”
It helps Ohio Northern having Bullimore back. The senior ranks second in the OAC at 16.6 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per outing.
|Bullimore leads the way on both ends of the court.
Ohio Northern Athletics photo
“We have a lot of people that are playing in new roles and it’s not just one person who is winning games; it’s the whole team doing it together,” she said. “When someone is not having a good night, someone else is there to step up. You can’t take away one person and think you’ve stopped the team. You have to guard everybody on the team.”
The Polar Bears rank second in OAC offense at 69.3 points per game. Dirksen (9.3 ppg), Black (7.9) and Cramer (6.2) are the team’s other leading scorers.
“Amy has had some good games and a lot of defenses focus on stopping her,” Black said. “Once teams stop her, she kicks it out and we have good shooters and drivers on the team. It’s really hard to stop all of us. If you try to stop the post, the guards get going. If you guard us tight on the outside, we can get things going inside.”
Offense is nice, but Ohio Northern excels at defense. The team has the OAC’s best defense, allowing just 50.3 points per game.
“Defense is first and foremost. We buy into the system. We know if we get stops, that’ll create offense for us,” Bullimore said. “Ball pressure and having help on the backside are important. We pride ourselves in working on defensive situations.”
Added Black, “I think defense is the thing we emphasize the most. We have to work really hard at it in practice and it’s something that gets our offense going. We know we’re not going to put up 80 points per game, though, so we have to play good defense.”
Despite a 68-66 upset loss at John Carroll on Saturday, the Polar Bears are atop the OAC at 14-2. They locked up a home OAC tourney quarterfinal game.
“It’s good to know we have a home game guaranteed,” Bullimore said. “This OAC tourney is more important for us because our region is so good this year. We’re nowhere near our ceiling yet, but I think we’ll peak at the right time. It’s just important to focus.”
Ohio Northern has two more OAC games before it begins tournament play. The Polar Bears want to build some momentum going into the postseason.
“I think we’ve done a good job about not playing to lose. When we have lost, I think it showed everyone we have to come every single game ready to play. We’re not being handed anything,” Black said. “I think we go out every game and try to execute the things our coaches tell us to and focus on a couple key aspects. I don’t think we’re so much worried about other teams beating us. I think we’re going out to play the best we can and put an entire game together. We’re improving every day. I don’t think we’ve reached our ceiling. I think we’ll peak at the right time and have another strong run.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.
Previous columnists2015-16: Greg Chandler