Two NCAA Division III opponents await the NAIA No. 21 Carroll College Saints women’s basketball team this weekend in Spokane.
The Saints (5-2) take on the No. 9-ranked team in D-III on Friday, battling Whitman College (4-1).
“It’s really important that we get these preseason wins and build for conference,” Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said. “We want to get better every game.”
Carroll certainly tested itself thus far. The Saints built their 5-2 record by battling top-25 teams in California, and inviting imposing teams to Helena. And, most impressively, the Saints have fought three D-I programs in exhibition play, earning a win over Boise State.
This weekend, the schedule hardly sags.
Whitman went to the quarterfinals of the D-III NCAA tournament last season. Whitman enters the game with four players averaging more than10 points per game, led by Casey Poe’s 18.8 ppg.
Carroll takes on Whitman on Friday at 5 p.m.
For Carroll, it will be a chance to see how their shifted starting lineup performs against strong competition. The Saints altered their starting lineup after falling to Montana State-Northern, and generated a win against the University of Providence.
“We inserted a new lineup so we definitely want to take care of the ball better than we did at Great Falls,” Sayers said. “I like the tempo we played with. We shot extremely well. We shared the ball the best we have this season.”
Sayers said as long as the starting unit remains productive and cohesiveness is there as a team, she doesn’t anticipate tinkering with her lineup too much. Though, Sayers also said, if players step up and begin producing from lesser roles, they will have a chance to start.
The Saints started Bailey Pasta, Hannah Dean, Danielle Wagner, Michaela Dowdy and Jaidyn Lyman in their last game out. Dean, Dowdy and Pasta have started every game this season. Unsurprisingly, the trio are the top scorers for Carroll, too.
Dean leads the group, scoring 13.1 points and grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game.
Perhaps most importantly, five Saints get a chance to play in front of family and friends this weekend.
“We always try to get them close to their home towns,” Sayers said. “It’s really important they have a chance to play in front of family and friends that can’t make the trek to Montana or follow them around through the Frontier. It’s going to be fun.”
Freshmen guards Jaidyn Lyman and Christine Denny, junior guard Brittney Johnson, sophomore forward Oona Harrington and redshirt freshman swingman Molly McDermott all return home. The players families and friends will be in attendance, enough so Sayers believe the Saints will have a home away from home.
“We’ll definitely have a home court advantage in both games with the amount of people that are going to want to come out and watch these kids play,” Sayers said.
The Saints have recruited Spokane hard over the years, establishing a significant recruiting pipeline. Spokane has been kind to Carroll, too, producing Katie Estey, who went on to an All-American career with Carroll.
Estey perhaps serves as the best example for what recruits can develop into should they choose Carroll. A shot at becoming an all-American and an opportunity to return home to play in front of family is pretty good incentive for any high schooler.
“It definitely is good for recruiting,” Sayers said. “Those kids realize that, hey, if I go to Carroll College then I get a chance to come back and play at home. We’ve played down in Spokane a couple of times. We’ve played at Gonzaga. We’ve played at Eastern Washington. We try to get back and play in that area for these kids to be able to enjoy the experience with their friends and family.”
Carroll faces Whitworth on Saturday at 5 p.m.