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Nationally ranked Lady RedHawks prepare for what may be their toughest, and greatest, basketball season yet

IU Northwest begins season ranked 18th in NAIA D-II, as Sharon Houston and her fellow seniors prepare for their final campaign


IU Northwest file photo
Senior forward and two-time NAIA All-American Sharon Houston of Merrillville is one of the NAIA’s top players.

Indiana University Northwest women’s basketball is back in what appears to be season packed with high expectations. The Lady RedHawks begin the season as the nation’s #18 team in NAIA Division II, according to a preseason coaches’ poll. It is the first time that any IU Northwest team has been nationally ranked to start the season.   

That is thanks in large part to the return of senior forward Sharon Houston (Merrillville), one of the NAIA’s top players the past three years. The two-time NAIA All-American returns for her final season after leading the league in rebounds and blocks as a junior.

The Lady RedHawks open the 2011-12 season at home on Wednesday, Nov. 2, versus perennial national powerhouse Bethel College. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Houston and the RedHawks finished the 2010-11 season 22-9 and finished the year with their second consecutive national tournament appearance. IU Northwest bowed out in the first round after a hard-fought 76-61 loss to Morningside College, but the RedHawks held a lead midway through the second half against an eventual Final Four team, a sign of how far the squad had come since its 53-point opening-round loss the year before.  

Over the past three years, the RedHawks have posted three consecutive 20-win seasons, good for 66 wins and back-to-back conference championships in the Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.). Returning with Houston this year are fellow seniors and all-conference guards Juliette Keller (Kouts) and Nina Wills (Bishop Noll), who anchor another deep RedHawk squad. 

In addition to the “Big 3” and their fellow returning seniors, Kym Daniels (Hammond Morton) and Ashley Michalski (Lake Central), IU Northwest is counting on significant contributions from last season’s freshman class, which included perimeter deep threats Brianne Wischman (Portage), Annmarie Keller (Kouts) and Kelly Dobson (Boone Grove).

They are joined by a talented freshman recruiting class featuring Northwest Indiana All-Area stars Brittany Dewell (Boone Grove) and Ashley Parish (Griffith). Dewell and Parish led two of the area’s most successful high school programs over the past four years. Other notable freshmen who are expected to make immediate contributions include Paige Hickenbottom (Hebron), Michelle Rosenbaum (Valparaiso), Kelly Gross (Crown Point), Allison Myers (Kankakee Valley), and Alyssa White (Chesterton).

“They’re a very talented and disciplined group,” said IU Northwest head coach Ryan Shelton. “This year’s freshmen have stepped right in and have been focused and ready to compete from day one. Already, we’ve had some of the most competitive practices since I’ve been here, and the chemistry amongst the players is better than ever.”

To return to the national tournament and make a run at the championship, Shelton said, his squad will have to “stay healthy, stay focused, and stay hungry.”

“With each season, new challenges present themselves, and the teams that can get prepared the fastest while staying committed and focused often have the best chance of getting off to a fast start and enduring a long season with the type of success that everyone talks about. We’ll need to lean on our veterans quite heavily and get significant contribution from our younger players.”

Houston, a three-time A.I.I. Player of the Year, owns nearly every school record and has already surpassed 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for her career. Houston led all NAIA Division II players in points (23.6), rebounds (16.1) and blocks (3.6) per game as a junior and is one of the nation’s top players.

Senior guard Keller (11.1 ppg) eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau as a junior and is the program’s second all-time leading scorer. She ranks first in career three-point field goals and free-throw percentage. Back court mate and fellow senior Wills has placed among the national leaders each of the past three seasons in assists (4.8 pg) and steals (2.2 pg) while playing the point for the RedHawks.

Shelton said the Lady RedHawks will be tested early and often thanks to a difficult early schedule and a significant, competitive expansion in the A.I.I.

Notable foes include national powerhouses Davenport University and Bethel College, as well as regional rivals Purdue Calumet and IU South Bend. IU Northwest will play at NCAA D-I Valparaiso University on Nov. 30 and will travel to D-I Chicago State in January.   

“We will need to be prepared every night if we are going to have the kind of season that we all want,” Shelton said. “It’s not going to be easy, but nothing worth achieving ever is. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

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Media Contact

Erika Rose
Office of Marketing and Communications
981-4358
erikrose@iun.edu

Charles Sheid
Office of Marketing and Communications
980-6802
ccsheid@iun.edu

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