It’s been a long time coming for the women’s basketball team

By Jasmine Pankratz – Horizon Sports Editor

This year the women’s basketball team is 11-12 despite facing tough competition, an improvement to last year’s record of 8-20.  The key to this improvement? Second year head coach Jeff Jacobs credits his sophomores.

“Last year we only had one sophomore so we lacked experience,” Jacobs said. “This year’s sophomores already know the system, they know the expectations, and they play with more confidence.”

And while having five sophomores has helped the Larks win this season, it’s also giving Jacobs another form of hope.

“We have three sophomores right now who are getting offers to play after this,” said Jacobs. “That in itself gives you a reason to give it everything you got, even if you lose because there are those on the team that would like to keep playing.”

The last time a member of the women’s basketball team at Hesston College played for two years and then went on to play basketball for another two years, was in 2015 when Taelor Drew went on to Randall University (Oklahoma City), formerly known as Hillsdale Freewill Baptist College.

This years women’s basketball team. Photo by Larry Bartel, Hesston College Marketing & Communications

Meanwhile, the men’s basketball team had four players in 2015, five players in 2016, and two players in 2017 transfer traditionally. Why is it different?

Former head women’s basketball coach Dan Harrison believes that’s the way it should be.

“I would never say Hesston College is a basketball factory, nor is it designed to be,” said Harrison. “It’s designed to take a passion and also provide the opportunity to play basketball against some of the best in the country.”

It’s enough to make you wonder, but it’s not due to a lack of talent. So why is it that the women’s team doesn’t tend to have players continue their career?

“I’ve had great players who stopped playing because they felt so strongly about what they were doing,” said Harrison, specifically mentioning Makayla Ladwig who played from 2012-2014 as an All-Team Region player but gave up the sport to focus on nursing.

Ladwig wasn’t the only Larks player to stop playing basketball for her career.

“A dozen of my players had offers to play and turned them down to try something else and another half dozen of my players had offers and turned them down to stay, especially for nursing,” said Harrison.

Carissa Slabach takes a shot against her opponent. Photo by Larry Bartel, Hesston College Marketing & Communications

Some women went on to run track, some to play soccer, some had to leave after a year early because they had too many credits, and most commonly, some gave up because they wanted to focus solely on nursing.

The latter was the case for sophomore Carissa Slabach.

“To me, academics outweighs basketball,” said Slabach. “At the beginning of this school year I was pretty determined to stay at Hesston because Hesston has the best nursing program around. I’m excited to start my career, to dig in and learn about the body because I want to be a great nurse and help my patients as much as I can, to the best of my ability.”

But there will be cons to giving up a sport that’s kept Slabach busy for as long as she could remember.

“I’m going to miss having a team and the atmosphere,” she said. “I’m considering playing soccer or running cross country, or possibly even being the basketball student assistant so I don’t feel as lost without it.”

Fellow teammate and sophomore Connor Atkinson, feels differently.

“I always wanted to play after Hesston but after these last few seasons I’ve really been determined to,” Atkinson said. “In high school I didn’t have the support I needed to believe that I could play after Hesston but now I have the confidence. I’ve thought about giving it up, but I’m just not ready to give up the game right now.”

Coach Jacobs supports both of his players’ decisions.

Connor Atkinson leads her team down the court. Photo by Larry Bartel, Hesston College Marketing & Communications

“I want them to get to know their faith by being here and if in fact they want to keep playing we will do everything we can to get them to keep playing,” said Jacobs. “You can learn a lot about being successful and how to work as a team in a workplace by playing basketball.”

And he makes that philosophy clear while he’s recruiting.

“I will never promise them that I will get them to the next level,” he said. “I can guarantee that they will come a better basketball player and I will help them be the best person, best player,  and best student that they can be. Whatever they want, we will do everything in our power to help them.”

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