Coach Steve Bruce aims to keep improving team
By JOSEPH GRAF
Sometimes, it’s not about how you start. It’s about how you finish.
For the Titan women’s basketball team, a strong finish helped to cap off a season that started with uncertainty. Finishing with an overall record of 15-17 and a conference record of 9-13, the team saved their best for last upsetting #12 Saint Xavier 70-64 in the quarterfinal round of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) before losing to Cardinal Stritch in the semifinals.
“I was pleased with our strong finish to the season,” said Women’s Head Coach Steve Bruce. “We were playing our best basketball at the most important time. Our conference tournament win over St. Xavier may have been the best win for us in my seven years as the head coach here at IU South Bend.”
After losing many senior players within the last three years, most of whom were starters, the past few seasons have been rebuilding years for the women’s program. But with a surprisingly successful finish to this season and the majority of the team returning next season, the women’s team is ready to once again make the push to return to the top of their conference.
“We lose two terrific seniors to graduation in Leah Meyer and Courtney Simpson,” said Bruce. “Their departures will be significant, but we return 77 percent of our scoring players and a veteran group. I think with a great off-season we have a chance to be right there in the hunt next year.”
While the Titan women didn’t achieve a winning season by definition, they won nearly half their games and showed they could hang with some of the best teams when tournament time came around. And as student athletes, they have found another way to win that has become a tradition over the years within the women’s basketball program—achieving high grades in the classroom.
For the second straight year in a row, Elyse Lefebvre, Courtney Simpson and Leah Meyer have each been named as Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes for their success in academics. To win the award, a student-athlete must be classified as a junior or higher and maintain at least a 3.5 GPA.
Even better for the Titan Athletics program is that the women’s basketball team isn’t the only varsity sport maintaining a culture of academic excellence. Athletic Director Gary Demski said that all the teams are doing well in their schoolwork.
“I’m extremely proud. In fact, all three of our varsity programs put up great academic numbers this year. Our men’s basketball program had an all-time high 2.95 GPA, our women’s had a 3.48, and our volleyball program had a 3.22. Average all those out and you get a 3.22 GPA for all our varsity teams combined. I don’t think many schools can say that,” said Demski.
It is this commitment to honoring the dual responsibilities of a student and an athlete that has shown through in the way these women have performed on and off the court. While recruiting, Demski said he makes it clear that this standard is expected out of all the incoming student athletes.
“It’s not easy being a student athlete, it’s very time consuming. We put in a lot of work in our department, and we expect the best from them,” said Demski. “One of the things that we tell our student athletes while recruiting is that if they aren’t prepared to work hard, they should probably go play somewhere else.”
Not only does the athletic staff expect the best out of their players, but they also expect the best of themselves. Seeking more than just a winning record, Coach Bruce has the biggest expectation of himself of all. He aims to bring the IUSB women’s team another CCAC championship.
“It is my goal to hand another banner here in the SAC and we will keep working until we get that done,” said Bruce. “Our returners will be hungry to take another step forward.”