Tech women aim to improve defense as GLIAC play begins

Michigan Tech’s Brenna Heise drives against Minnesota Duluth’s Ayo Porte, Nov. 20, 2017 at the Wood Gym. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — A 6-1 start, including 5-1 on the road, and a No. 18 national ranking is about as much as you can ask for to start the season. 

But the defensive execution during their nonconference schedule left a lot to be desired for the Michigan Tech Huskies.

“We need to get better defensively in order for us to be as successful as we want to be in our league,” Tech coach Kim Cameron said. “I am happy with the progress we made, but defensively, we have concerns. 

“It’s something the girls are aware of and are willing to get better at.”

Through the first seven games, Tech has allowed an average of 65.9 points per game. That ties the 2013-14 team’s mark of most points allowed per game in a season during Cameron’s eight-year coaching career. 

Tech is coming off a 95-92 loss to Augustana and an 83-76 victory over Concordia-St. Paul.

“We have to buckle down and bear down,” Cameron said. “The teams we played this weekend were high-powered, high-scoring offensive-minded teams. That might just be the look of their league, but we’re not responding well enough to that.”

The Huskies will attempt to reassert dominance on the defensive end when they open GLIAC play tonight when they host Saginaw Valley State (0-6) at 5:30 p.m. and Northwood (3-2) on Saturday at 1 p.m.

One of the first steps Cameron would like to see from her team is winning the individual matchups in their man to man defense so the Huskies don’t get out of position due to too many rotations and people scrambling to recover. 

“It starts with every person doing their job and winning their battles,” Cameron said. “You always have a rotation to help if someone gets beat, but ultimately, you would like the initial part of the play to not get beat so that you don’t have to have endless rotations. 

“I think communication is a big part of that, and this group needs to get better at that and they know that. But I think the initial start and doing your job one-on-one is going to help your team defense. That’s how we’re trying to improve.”

The Huskies rose as high as No. 10 in the country before the Augustana loss over the weekend dropped them to No. 18. But Cameron was pleased with how Tech handled its first adverse situation of the season and responded with the win over Concordia.

“I think that says a lot about this group,” Cameron said. “I think you can start to second-guess yourself. We have really good people, and they’re very humble. Confidence is an issue, but even though they’re older and senior-oriented, we have to make sure we’re embracing our age and experience. I thought we did that in Game 2.”

Offensively, senior Brenna Heise earned a spot in Tech’s record book with a 37-point outing in the loss to Augustana, tying a single-game school record. Heise made 16 of 23 shots and was 5 of 10 from 3-point range. She followed up that performance with 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting against Concordia-St. Paul. After scoring in double digits just once in the first four games, Heise has scored at least 10 points in each of the last three contests, including 14 points against Minnesota Duluth on Nov. 20. 

“I think that it took her a couple games to get going, and I think that once she did this past week, I really felt that it gave her a little bit of confidence,” Cameron said of Heise. “I see that only getting better as the season goes on.”

Now Tech will prepare for an SVSU team that features no seniors and has lost all six games it has played this season. Despite the record, Cameron notices the Cardinals’ growth in each contest so far. 

“You can watch them throughout the first six games, and you can see the improvement every game,” she said. “They’re going to be good, they’re going to be ready. I think we’ve created our own little rivalry with them having such a strong program the last few years. We have no doubt they’ll come in here and die trying. They work stinking hard.”

Unlike SVSU, Northwood has returners with extensive experience and success in the GLIAC. Both senior guards Lindsay Orwat (20.2 points per game) and Maddy Seeley (13.2) were named to the All-GLIAC South Preseason Team. 

“They’re so explosive,” Cameron said. “Their defense fires their offense, and if they can create turnovers, they can get out in transition and run. Now with the high-octane guards that they have, now they’re dribble-drive, hand-off ball screens, catch and shoot and out in transition, so they’re a very high-powered offense, and that’s scary. That’s what we went through with Augustana, though, and hopefully, we can be better than we were against them because that’s exactly what Northwood is going to look like.”