The mid-season additions of Brendan Elliot and Peter Mata’utia coupled with new signings Jamie Buhrer, Rory Kostjasyn, Ken Sio, Josh Starling and Jacob Gagan have given the Knights much more depth heading into the 2017 season.”There is a lot more competition [for places] than there was last year,” Brown said.”Hopefully people like Chanel Mata’utia will have more luck with injuries. Chanel hurt his knee in the first two minutes against the Gold Coast in Round 1 and never got back, we are quite hopeful that Chanel will have a big year. “We are definitely a lot stronger at this stage this year than we were last year, not only with quality, but experience as well.”That depth is already showing with the battle for the custodian role, with three players capable of filling the position. “Dylan Pythian and Peter Mata’utia are probably the two most likely ones at this stage,” Brown said,”Nathan Ross is happy to play there or at wing or centre as well. He’s 27 and he’s only played 30 games, he really established himself as a winger, so we’d probably like to keep Ross there and keep a bit of stability.”The Knights returned to training on Wednesday, knowing the Downer NRL Auckland Nines are just around the corner. “In the Nines we’d like to give a few younger blokes an opportunity and some experienced players as well,” Brown said.”Fitness will play a part in that. We have some outside backs that have spent some time in rehab that have missed a bit of training so we certainly don’t want to risk anyone. “I think some of the players and especially the higher profile ones, they enjoy playing Nines. When we play the Nines we have a trial on the same weekend against a state league side on the Gold Coast. A couple of weeks after that we play Canberra.”Brown is still yet to decide on his best starting side, but said the trials and training will help make up his decision in the coming months.
DES MOINES, Iowa – Maybe it was an accident that senior Lizzy Wendell even picked up a basketball more than 10 years ago. The Wendell household was never one destined for relaxation while her parents, Mike and Gina, kept up with the busy schedules of their nine kids. For the Blue Springs, Mo. native, this often times meant being dragged to her older sister’s basketball practices where her dad was the coach. Perhaps these moments were what sparked Wendell’s love affair – not to mention her success in a Drake uniform – for the game of basketball. Drake has been home of the MVC Freshman of the Year for three straight years now. Drake consistently has players named to all-conference teams. Drake has gone 60-36 in her first three seasons – the Bulldogs won only 49 games in the three previous seasons without her. Much in part to Wendell’s continued prowess on the court, Drake also recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons in her sophomore and junior seasons for the first time since 2000-01 and 2001-02. Her love for the game undoubtedly takes shape in her ability to score the ball. As if the long list of honors previously referenced isn’t already impressive, Wendell has led the MVC in both individual scoring average and helped her team have the MVC’s top scoring average the last two seasons, and the team average of 79.6 in 2015-16 ranked ninth in the nation. In addition, During the past two seasons, Wendell has been among the MVC leaders in scoring, assists, steals, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three-point percentage – posting these high efficiency numbers while recording the fewest average minutes per game among the leaders. “When tip-off happens, I pretty much just go for it,” Wendell said. “Our fans and the atmosphere they bring on game day definitely motivate me. I just want to play well for the coaches, for my family and for all the people who show so much love and support for this program.” Wendell is the leader, the go-to player, the one expected to step up when the team needs it most and the one most often in the spotlight. The average 22-year-old would probably fold under this type of pressure – not Wendell. .Have there been times of doubt, frustration and questioning whether or not she’s meant for the demands of Division I basketball? Absolutely. But even through moments of weakness, Wendell falls back to her roots and what got her here. One might argue that Wendell’s 1,859 career points – landing her in the No. 7 all-time scoring spot in Drake history and No. 13 spot in MVC history – is how a winning legacy is defined or that scoring 10 or more points in 77 consecutive games dating back to her freshman campaign is more indicative of a winning legacy. But Wendell would beg to differ; the facts, the figures and the accolades are the furthest thing from her mind. “I want to leave a winning legacy behind,” Wendell said. “A legacy where our culture is one built around unity and a team that meshes well. I want people on the outside to see that we do things differently here at Drake. We win, but we have fun doing it.” “The attention can be hard and distracting,” Wendell added. “There are times I have to take a step back and refocus, but I try not to really think about it. At the end of the day, I’m here because I love playing basketball, not because of the awards.” Wendell herself never truly believed or even considered competing at the college level until she reached high school. But even so, one ounce of belief was all it took. Her career thus far is a storied one; one that started with a “yes” as a senior in high school and ends with expectations of an NCAA Tournament berth in her final season as a Bulldog. As Baranczyk’s very first commit at Drake after taking over in April, 2013, Wendell has played a large role in launching an era of Drake women’s basketball where other players of her caliber are also buying in. Where would Lizzy Wendell be if her dad never dragged her to practice in third grade? Mike Wendell can be credited for first placing a ball in her hands, for instilling a level of curiosity in her and teaching the mechanics of how to shoot as a young and spry nine-year-old. A combination of talent and hard work, in tandem with Wendell’s unwavering commitment to the people around her, make a strong case for becoming the 15th All-American in program history, and the first since 2012. “He just wants me to be the best I can be,” Wendell said. “To be the start of someone’s vision was really appealing to me,” Wendell reflected. “I knew right away that Jennie’s coaching style would allow me to be at my best. But with that, she is genuine and knows how to make people feel comfortable. I think all of that, and being at a school where my family could watch me play, is what really sold me.” For someone who was recruited by only small Division I programs and a handful of other Valley foes, Wendell has exceeded expectations in a short three-year span. Head Coach Jennie Baranczyk may disagree, however. She saw something in Wendell that few other coaches did – and did something that no other coach could do – that is, sell a vision and get Wendell to commit to Drake. After just one visit to campus, Baranczyk had both Wendell and her mom believing in a promising future. There was no turning back after Mike let Lizzy join her sister’s team, despite being the youngest player by close to two years. Looking back, it was Mike who first opened the door to his daughter’s prolific career, and as she enters her senior season, remains her biggest fan today. It’s a blessing and a curse, however, for a player whose stubbornness can get the best of her. When Mike steps in with his postgame analysis, it isn’t always easy for her to listen. But all things considered – she gets it. Wendell alone averaged 16.8 points per game as a rookie, 21.8 points as a sophomore and 19.6 points as a junior. These numbers add up to a career average of 19.4 points per game, which ranks fourth all-time in Drake program history, seventh all-time in MVC history and is sixth in the country among all active Division I players. Seriously, though, how does she do it? She does it with humility and a team-first mentality. Her relentless pursuit of wanting to be better than she was the year before – merely to make the team better – is evident if you look at her stat line and the success of Drake women’s basketball over the last three years. What does not necessarily show up in tangible form is how she stays motivated and what she does to stay on top of her game. She’s made the NCAA “Starting Five” that recognizes the best weekly performances in women’s college hoops. Wendell even had an ESPN.com article written by Mechelle Voepel about her. In her first season, Wendell was the MVC Newcomer of the Week on eight separate occasions. Surprisingly enough, Wendell’s ability to shoot the ball, pick apart defenses and make her teammates better is just scraping the surface of the type of player and person she is. And one of the best Wendell has certainly become. Her stubborn side has helped garner nearly every accolade imaginable, although she will be the last one to mention it. She was the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, a three-time All-MVC First Team selection, a nine-time MVC Player of the Week award winner and the list goes on. Since those initial days in the gym with her dad and sister, Wendell has taken fate into her own hands and left a lasting impression on Drake women’s basketball. Maybe, just maybe, she happened to be in the right place at the right time more than 10 years ago. But the places basketball has taken Wendell thus far, the numbers she has posted as a Bulldog in three years time and the impact she’s made on others along the way? That is certainly no accident. By: Carly Grenfell, Special to www.GoDrakeBulldogs.com Print Friendly Version
Sept. 30 has come and gone, but the Columbia River Crossing still hasn’t found its way to the floors of the Oregon Legislature.Monday was the last day Washington could commit funding to the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement and thereby meet one of the conditions required to keep Oregon’s money on the table. That didn’t happen; Oregon’s previous authorization of $450 million to the CRC has technically expired.But project supporters have said the project may still emerge in the near future. A policy director for Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler said last week that the Legislature could still re-authorize its financial commitment to the CRC at a later date. Lawmakers are currently in Salem for a special session focused on public employee pension reform and education funding, among other issues.Tim Raphael, a spokesman for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, stayed mum on whether the CRC could come up this week, or during a possible second special session later on.“We’re focused on the special session we’re in right now to boost education funding and restore lost school days,” Raphael said in an email.CRC planners have said they hope to apply for a crucial federal grant this fall. Funding from Oregon, which is now the lead state on the revised $2.7 billion project, would have to be in place before that happens.– Eric Florip