When I arrive at Cardinal Arena, shortly after 1 p.m., the floor is already crowded with players following loosening and stretching exercises under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Teena Murray. I count 14 players on the court, all listening intently to the instructions and explanation of each drill...and then performing the exercise. I've been told prior to my arrival that Coach Walz won't be running today's practice and since my contact through the sports information office hasn't arrived yet..I head over to assistant coach Michelle Clark-Heard to report in. She's been informed I'll be here, she greets me and tells me they're glad I'm here. I thank her and stand back to watch the practice. The other assistants must be out on the road...I see new Cardinal staffer Liz Sherwood. She's big and powerful, watching the action in a warm up jersey from the scorers table. Not one you'd drive the lane against and expect to toss in an effortless layup on.
Clark-Heard has a quick meeting at half court. She announces who will wear white jerseys and who will be in black. I'm told later by manager Laura Terry that this assignment changes daily and is done for competitiveness...it's not an indicator of first or second teams. Not sure of some of the new players by facial recognition yet, I try
to listen in and get the assignments. As best as I can tell...Schimmel, Taylor, Harrington, Reid, Story, Warren and Johnson are in the black numbered jerseys and Burke, Harper, Hines, Vails, Dyer, Slaughter and Tay reverse their jerseys and are in white.
Tia Gibbs and Nikki Burton aren't practicing today. Burton, recovering from hip surgery, is working the exercise bike. Schimmel wears #23 and Harrington is #20. I'm immediately impressed with the size of #42 and ask Becky Bonner which of the new players that is. I'm informed that it is transfer Cierra Warren. Asia Taylor looks impressive...strong and healthy...prowling the court with confidence and an almost predatory grin on her face. Toya Johnson looks so tiny out there...but is quick and works the court well.
The segments are timed and the next
involves 4 on 4 half court passing. The guys take the court and work the ball around the perimeter of hustling Lady Cards. I ask one of the guys later why it's a four on four drill. He explains his theory...it's half court and a lot easier to negotiate the drill with two less bodies.
As the practice rolls on, many different game situations are practiced. These are alternated with brief shooting drills at all six baskets set up on the court. I watch Burke and Story work the shots close to me and don't see many misses...
During the drills, a voice addresses the players from way up high. It is Jeff Walz, watching from the east side balcony and his comments are direct, to the point, and specified toward certain players. He isn't there long...but his impact is immediately felt and his suggestions and observations acted upon.
Although I only made it through two hours of the scheduled 3 hour practice, one of my favorite drills involved the girls at the foul line, one of the Lady Cards shooting a free throw and then setting up on defense against the guys to press after the made shot. After the guys get the ball to the opposite end of the court and shoot...the girls bring it in and drive the court on offense. Several great plays in this sequence...Taylor rejecting a jumper with authority, the press effective several times...creating turnovers and Schimmel seeming to make every pull up jumper she attempts in the drill.
Reid and Burke are the take charge players, the vocal leaders and work with the freshmen during the practice. Reid points out to the freshmen that it's OK to enter the lane during a free throw attempt when the ball leaves the shooter's hands. Several appear surprised by this rule. Heard encourages the point guards to be more vocal on the court and Bonner works with the post players on moves and positioning beneath the basket. I watch individual players work as the practice rolls on.