The Bethel women’s basketball team overcomes a slow start and gives hope for a promising end of their 2021-2022 season.
By Emily Rossing
59-65. 18.8 seconds left on the clock inside the Robertson Center on a Tuesday night in November. The ref blows the whistle, signaling the end of the timeout. Five players from the Bethel women’s basketball break away from the huddle and walk onto the court, taking their offensive positions against Augsburg University. Scoring is the only option now.
Bella Williams dribbles the ball up the left side of the court before passing it to Makenna Pearson. Pearson shoots for three. It bounces off the rim. Courtney Nuest retrieves the ball and pulls up to shoot for two. The ball hits the backboard at the wrong angle. Hayden Glander recovers once more and shoots for two. This time, it goes in.
Too late. The clock reads 1.9 seconds.
Augsburg hold onto the ball just as time runs out. Final score, 61-65.
The heads drop. Another loss. The team is 0-4 now. Two more baskets, and it would have been theirs.
Dec. 1, and it’s the same story. Hamline ousts them by 9 points this time. 0-5.
But three days later, the tide changes.
Dec. 4, the Bethel women’s basketball team beat St. Katherine 63-49 and sparked a fundamental change in their season. They would go on to win 14 of the next 16 games.
So, what changed?
Head Coach Jon Herbrechtsmeyer, who the team knows as “Herbie,” says the key was forcing younger athletes to perform.
A few exposures to COVID-19 shut down nearly half of the team and forced many younger players to fill in the shoes of the starters. It happened not just once, but twice – once just after Thanksgiving and again right after New Year’s. Coach Herbie said with pre-season, it feels like the past three months have been four separate seasons.
“We’ve been through a lot,” he said.
During one of those shutdowns, the team had only eight girls eligible to play. In order to effectively practice, a team needs at least 10 players to play both defensive and offense. Some assistant coaches filled in the roles at practice. In games, the absences meant longer stretches of playing and less substitutes, all with a younger team.
And yet, with this younger team composed of three varsity players and five junior varsity players, the Bethel women’s basketball team went on to win four of their next five games against full-strength varsity rosters.
Coach Herbrechtsmeyer’s diverse coaching background, including stints at Division I schools and even a brief career as a scout for a WNBA team, has left him overseeing many different teams composed of many types of players. In the past 20 years as Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Bethel, he’s seen a variety of players and team dynamics. But there’s something different about this team.
“I have more confidence in the depth of our depth chart than I ever had on any team I’ve ever coached in 32 years,” Herbrechtsmeyer said.
The record speaks for itself. With all the girls on the roster registering minutes in the winning season, the team’s vast skill set is evident. The players, though, speak to some of the intangibles that characterize the team.
The senior leadership has been crucial to developing the team, according to Herbrechtsmeyer. Fifth-years Makenna Pearson and Bella Williams have been integral parts of the team this year as well as the past few years, including the 2019-2020 season, when the team won the MIAC Conference Championship. Pearson, who recently scored her thousandth point in her career for the Royals, says she is particularly proud of her younger teammates for overcoming the adversity that COVID-19 has brought.
“[It] can be hard to fill in those missing pieces, but the thing I love about this team is we have filled those spots when we needed to,” Pearson said.
One of the key players who began to shine while the Royals were short-handed is freshman Hayden Glander, who went from minimal playing during the first five games of the season to averaging 13 points per game, the most on the team. Glander is one of nine freshmen on the team, joined by one sophomore, two juniors, one senior and two fifth years. With such a young team, some bumps in the road were inevitable. But Glander speaks to what she pinpoints as the turning point for this team’s success.
“I think what changed the spark from the losing to winning streak was that we all started to meld together and have patience,” Glander said.
This chemistry is pacing the team toward a positive playoff picture. The four-round playoffs are set for the week of Feb. 19-26. With all the challenges the team has faced this year, they feel ready for it.
“This team knows what we are capable of and that is nothing short of MIAC champions,” Pearson said.