Parkland at nationals: Keys, please
The Parkland College women’s basketball team is in Overland Park, Kan., for the NJCAA Division II national tournament for the first time since 2011. Staff writer Jeff Huth offers three storylines on the 10th-seeded Cobras’ quest for a title:
First, Mike Lindemann had to decide whether he could take on yet another time-consuming task in his ultra-busy life. Then, the co-owner of Body N’ Sole Sports store and co-director of the Illinois Marathon had to find some players. After serving five seasons as a Cobra assistant, Lindemann agreed to succeed Karrie Redeker as head coach after the latter departed last May for the same job at Illinois Central College. He agreed with conditions, perhaps the most important being that Parkland would be OK with another staff member, former Indiana Wesleyan assistant Bill Dobrik, handling the recruiting. “With all my other commitments ... I just can’t do everything,” Lindemann said. With that settled, the new Cobras head coach turned to the task of rebuilding a depleted roster. Two recruits who had committed to Parkland instead decided to follow Redeker to ICC. A third, from Indiana, opted to go to a school closer to home. At that point, Lindemann’s first team consisted of six players. And shortly before the start of school, Parkland still didn’t have enough players to conduct a five-on-five scrimmage. “We’ve got to find players,” Lindemann recalls thinking. The Cobras did, as transfers trickled in. LeRoy native Ashley Walker enrolled after playing one season at Central Methodist (Mo.). So did Tuscola’s Samantha Kohlbecker, who had been at Illinois State as a student only. Finally, a trio of late arrivals — former Centennial standout Chelsea Cross from Truman State (Mo.); Champaign Central graduate Kewanee Garrett from Prairie State; and Decatur Lutheran’s Jerica Hawkins from Kirkwood (Iowa) — had Lindemann breathing easier. “That was kind of a blessing,” he said. “If things would have worked out (at the schools) where they were, then I wouldn’t have had them and we maybe would have been with nine players.” Hawkins is a starter, while Cross and Walker are among Parkland’s top reserves.
One incoming high school recruit who remained solidly in Parkland’s camp during the transition was Hannah Wascher. Lindemann doubts the Cobras (24-9) would be where they’re at now without the sturdy 5-foot-10 center from Rantoul. The freshman has been a go-to player on offense, averaging a team-leading 14.5 points, and a go-after-everything rebounder, grabbing a team-best 8.5 boards per game. At 59.2 percent from the field, Wascher ranks fifth in the nation in Division II in shooting percentage. “She’s been huge for us ever since the beginning,” Lindemann said. “She’s not only helped our inside presence but helped our outside presence tremendously because (opponents) have to key on her a little bit more and it opens things up (for teammates).” If Wascher was a quick study in adjusting to the junior college game, she admits to one eye-opening aspect at this level: Big Stages. During four varsity seasons at Rantoul, the former Eagle played on teams that won a total of 25 games. “And in one season (at Parkland), I’m at 24, so it’s quite a change,” she said. That change really struck Wascher at the Region 24 Final Four in Mattoon — the qualifier for nationals. “That was my first time being in a game that had more importance than just a regular game,” she said. “And my nerves — I was shakin’ before the game even started.” It proved to be a temporary condition. In both the regional semifinal and the title game, Wascher produced double-doubles for the second-seeded Cobras. “She’s very strong; very strong,” Cross said. “Her ability to post up is beyond any post player that I’ve ever seen.”
Sticking with it
It was Nov. 16, and Parkland had just lost its third straight game to fall to 3-3. Lindemann wasn’t particularly happy after the first loss — “We gave up too many threes,” he grumbled — but he wasn’t about to rant about the last two setbacks. Not when the Cobras’ competition at a tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was then-No. 11 Des Moines Area and a host Kirkwood team that would beat then-No. 2 Illinois Central College that same weekend. “We played both those games very, very close,” Lindemann said, “and I told them, ‘You know, losing’s not something we want to do, but you guys just played with two of the top teams in the country.’ And I said, ‘If you guys want to work hard and keep at this, I see no reason that we can’t achieve our goals.’ ” That list included winning the Mid-West Athletic Conference. Check. And being a top-three seed in the regional. Check. Next up? “Playing on the last day of the season possible,” Lindemann said. If the Cobras are pulling on their uniforms next Saturday — when the first- through eighth-place spots at nationals are determined — they can check that off their list, too. Considering the way Parkland has played down the stretch, it’s no stretch to envision Lindemann’s team still running the court on the final day of D-II nationals. The Cobras travel to Kansas as winners of nine of their last 10 games. “(Based on) the last three weeks, there’s nothing I don’t think this team can’t do,” Lindemann said.