The women’s basketball roster is balanced with three student-athletes representing each class and, returns 79 percent of their scoring from last season for the 2019-20 campaign.
Last season, Bradley finished 12-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference, but fell to the 12-6 WNIT at-large bid Northern Iowa twice by a combined score of seven points. The goal this season, to reach a postseason tournament, is attainable if the Braves focus on the details.
Head coach Andrea Gorski said that entire program took a step forward last year, but must be more detail-oriented in order to close out wins. Bradley lost five games by seven points or less in the 2018-19 season.
“We have to be more detailed in our play and execution to be a postseason team. We lost by just a couple points here and there and [if we didn’t], we are in postseason,” Gorski said.
She is proud of the theme that her team, captained by seniors Chelsea Brackmann and Amber Bozeman, came up with: “Go get more.”
“It’s what we need to do,” Gorski said. “When we think that effort is maxed out, we can always go and do more and you have to do that to be a postseason team.”
Bradley held opponents to a 39 percent field goal percentage in MVC play last year. Gorski said she wants to hold teams to 38 percent and defense has been a focus since the March 15 loss to rival Illinois State in the opening round of the conference tournament.
“If it had been at 38 we would have been playing in the postseason. We were just that close,” Gorski said. “We have spent so much time defensively and I think that’s going to separate us from being a great team from just a good team. That [realization] relies on communication to be able to switch up defenses and point of attack.”
Brackmann averaged a double-double last season, lead the conference in rebounding and earned a place on the MVC All-Defensive Team and First-Team All-MVC. The senior is on pace to break Leti Lerma’s all-time career rebounding record of 844. Brackmann needs to pull down just 4.4 boards per game this season to do so.
Right now, however, she is focused on helping her teammates get better and continuing to be a strong presence on the court.
“I’m bringing a lot of vocal pressure and leading by example,” Brackmann said. “I just need to keep continuing to rebound, which will help my team get more opportunities for second chance points.”
The breadth of experience returning to the Hilltop and a summer trip to Portugal has allowed team-wide communication to flourish and a noticeable confidence to develop.
“We aren’t having to guess or think about things as much and have been able to go a little quicker at practices because they have that experience,” Gorski said. “We will go into our first game with more sets and more versatile styles of defense than we could in the past couple years.”
Gorski said the freshmen will be aggressive and fun to watch with Mahri Petree competing hard each possession and not taking her foot off the gas pedal, 6-foot-2-inch Veronika Roberts using her setting screens and Violeta Verano Fores bringing pizzazz.
Two sophomores, lanky guard Lasha Petree and point guard Tatum Koenig, will start each game and use their skillsets to score various ways and get teammates involved, according to Gorski. Both can knock it down from beyond the arc, as Koenig led the Braves in 3-point shooting converting 37.7 percent and Petree was third at 35.0.
Juniors Gabi Haack and Nyjah White have grown throughout their college careers. Haack, a First-Team All-MVC selection last season said she will continue to rebound from the guard spot, knock down 3-pointers and has developed a midrange game.
Gorski expects White to breakout and become more of weapon on both ends of the floor. She averaged 6.4 points 4.2 rebounds per game in her first two years.
The nonconference slate will see Bradley host Miami-Ohio, a WNIT qualifier, on Nov. 23 and play Big Ten member Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Braves will be tested when they play Atlantic-10 teams George Mason and Richmond at Coastal Carolina’s Thanksgiving tournament.
Gorski said that no player on the team is the same which allows her staff to create mismatches and adjust in the heat of competition. That ability to adjust will help the Braves during the tightly contested 18 game conference season.
“I’m glad we are starting at home this year to kind of set the tone,” Gorski said. “This is the toughest the Valley has been in a long time from top to bottom. The last time we were [picked] fourth [in the MVC poll] was my senior year here, and that was a long time ago.”
Bradley opens the MVC season after the New Year by welcoming Evansville, Indiana State and Illinois State to Renaissance Coliseum.
Likely the biggest test for the Braves comes in a three-game stretch on Jan. 24, 26 and 31. They will host UNI Friday, followed by regular season champion Drake Sunday and then will travel to 2019 NCAA Sweet 16 team Missouri State the next Friday.
Bradley will play Drake and UNI back-to-back Feb. 20 and 22 and Missouri State a week later.
Gorski said that she and her team look forward to the challenge. In her three years the helm of the program it hasn’t beaten Drake or UNI.
“I think that its great, you’ve got to raise your level and be flawless when you play those teams and so I like that we are playing them in a row,” Gorski said. “It will hopefully sharpen our focus and play almost perfect games to beat those teams and it will be good for us to be in that mindset.”
Versatility and attention to detail will be at the foremost focus of the women’s basketball program. They will still look to score in transition, as that’s Gorski’s style of play, but effectiveness in the half court both offensively and defensively will be the determining factor in the Braves playing in a postseason tournament.
Bradley plays Illinois-Springfield Sunday at 2 p.m. in an exhibition game before heading to the state of Michigan to play Oakland Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. and the University of Michigan Nov. 10 at 1 p.m.