The Winona State University women’s basketball team finished their 2020-21 campaign this weekend after a sweep of the Upper Iowa University Peacocks, a feat which head coach Scott Ballard described as difficult to accomplish during the shortened season.
“We had four separate quarantines during our season and it’s really hard to gain any momentum when you have interruptions all the time,” Ballard said, “practice is important to gain confidence in what you’re doing, when it gets taken away periodically, the confidence isn’t there.”
Ballard said winning both games of a weekend series against the same team is challenging because of the lack of opportunity to adjust due to the infrequency of practices. “You can talk but there’s no repetitions,” Ballard said. He added there is also the extra layer of motivation for the team that loses the first game.
Despite the lack of a tournament seed due to the field being cut in half from years prior, the Warriors will have much to look forward to next season.
An extra year of eligibility for their four senior starters, each of whom have continued to develop in Ballard’s program, will provide the Warriors with a combination of experienced talent to match the youth of four incoming high school recruits.
Perhaps the most decorated member of the team, three-time NSIC second team All-Conference selection and former WSU and NSIC Freshman Female Athlete of the Year Allie Pickrain, has dealt with a knee injury the entire season resulting in her playing time decrease. The injury will require surgery. The sharp-shooting wing does not expect to miss any time next season.
Video: Allie Pickrain drains a wide-open three against Upper Iowa University.
While Pickrain has seen her minutes decrease, she has stayed a threat through efficiency, shooting 51.9 percent from beyond the arc. Pickrain also achieved a career goal in reaching 1,000 points.
“At first I felt like I was doing something wrong,” Pickrain said, “but in reality, it’s because this season really, although it sucks to say, it didn’t mean that much because we’re coming back next year.”
The Warriors did not view this season as a waste of time. They implemented a new defensive scheme, switching defensive matchups, a break from their traditional man-to-man defense which relied on fighting around screens to stay with their assignment.
The style of defense requires players to be versatile in defending across all five positions and has seen its popularity increase since the recent Golden State Warriors championship seasons.
On offense, the Warriors had to find a way to combat the triple teams sent against leading scorer and former NSIC first team All-Conference selection Taylor Hustad.
The Warriors also faced the backed-off approach teams took toward senior point guard Emily Kieck, who was coming off a season that saw her three-point shooting percentage fall almost 15 points from 32.2 percent to 17.8 percent.
Center Emma Fee, who has seen her role increase each year on the squad, made the most of this season benefitting from the new system and increased opportunities.
“Emma had to wait her turn and pay her dues behind some all-conference players,” Ballard said, “had to be patient and keep working hard, and she didn’t get bitter she got better and now she’s an all-conference caliber player.”
Fee has transitioned from a five minute-per-game player to starter averaging 10.8 points per game with a 30-point outing against Sioux Falls on January 17.
Video: Emma Fee sinks a shot to beat the buzzer and secure the win against Concordia St. Paul.
“Emma’s scary to go against, she’s a big body, she’s in your face, there’s not a whole lot you can do.” Pickrain said.
Next season the Warriors will look to get to the regional tournament for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign, and the team hopes there will be fans in the stands to take the journey with them.