Ninth-ranked Anoka-Ramsey women make the most of its chances

Thirty minutes into the season’s first practice, Anoka-Ramsey Community College women’s basketball coach Dave DeWitt was already planning for a season without an All-American player.

Anoka-Ramsey’s Nicole Howard, right, tries to tie-up a loose ball during the Golden Rams 83-35 win over Vermillion in the Golden Rams’ annual Holiday Classic Dec. 15. Photo by Bill Jones

Anoka-Ramsey’s Nicole Howard, right, tries to tie-up a loose ball during the Golden Rams 83-35 win over Vermillion in the Golden Rams’ annual Holiday Classic Dec. 15. Photo by Bill Jones

Sophomore Maria Loughlin tore two knee ligaments during non-contact drills only minutes into the season’s first practice in October.

The injury could have submerged the Golden Rams’ plan for a second national title in three seasons but DeWitt said, “We’re getting better with each game. I’m not happy with the way we’re playing right now [offensively], but I am happy with the defense.”

Loughlin was posed to be a leader at both ends of the court after averaging more than 20 points per game in 2011-12.

“More important than being an All-American and losing those points out of the line-up are all the little things she did,” DeWitt said. “Her high basketball IQ, she can play four positions and is just a huge loss for us. Bottom line is we lost games early but we played good competition.”

The Golden Rams matched the 2011-12 squad’s total losses for the season three games into this campaign (0-3) which included a pair of games against nationally-ranked programs in Arizona (Western Arizona, 59-31, Nov. 1 and Mesa Community College, 71-47, Nov. 2). They also dropped a 56-53 decision to Madison Community College in Milwaukee, Wis., Nov. 9.

Since then the ninth-ranked Golden Rams have won eight games in non-conference play, including two overwhelming wins during last weekend’s Anoka-Ramsey Holiday Classic.

Anoka-Ramsey’s Kelli Schram, right, shoots over a Vermillion player during the Golden Rams 83-35 win Dec. 15. Photo by Bill Jones

Anoka-Ramsey’s Kelli Schram, right, shoots over a Vermillion player during the Golden Rams 83-35 win Dec. 15. Photo by Bill Jones

The team topped Bismarck State 77-55 Dec. 14 and followed that with an 82-35 win over Vermillion at the campus in Coon Rapids Dec. 14-15.

“We’re certainly not dead,” DeWitt said, illustrated by a 65.5 scoring average which ranks second in the division while giving up a third-lowest points per game (48.9) in the conference and leading the division, along with second in free throw percentage, third in three-point shooting percentage and fourth in field goal percentage.

“We’re going to have a solid year,” DeWitt said. “What’s good about this team is that we’re balanced.”

On both ends of the floor.

They’re getting it done with a variety of players instead of one or two standouts at the top of the scoring charts. The Rams have five players among the top 10 in a variety of different categories.

“We’ve had games with four or five kids in double figures,” he said. “Everybody can score and that works to our advantage.”

Offensively, Nicole Schaub (5-10 freshman from Park Center) ranks ninth in the South Division in scoring average with 13 points, while Shelby Zimmel (5-7 freshman from Coon Rapids) is fourth in the division in three-point percentage (36.8), Kelli Schramm (5-10 sophomore Roseville) is fourth in both free throws (76.5) and rebounds per game (7.5) and Tacita Gonzalez (5-4 sophomore from Fridley) ranks seventh in field goal percentage (45.9).

Spreading the attack among different players helps disguise the game plan, according to DeWitt.

“We’ve got nine or 10 kids who can play,” DeWitt said. “We play everybody and that depth is something we have over everybody else.”

DeWitt compared this squad to his last national championship squad in 2011. “Even though we didn’t have bunch of people in the categories we won the whole thing,” he said.

On the defensive end Kendra Norman (5-2 freshman from North Branch) ranks fifth in steals per game (2.2) and is the top rebounder, which is a result of her hard work and determination, DeWitt said.

“She’s a good, solid player who isn’t great at any one thing but extremely solid at everything,” he said about the Golden Rams’ combo guard who he admitted is rather short to be a leading rebounder.

“She told me she’s had to fight and scratch for everything all her life,” DeWitt said. “She just works hard and out-hustles everyone else on the floor. She’s also a good shooter who can find people.”

As long as Anoka-Ramsey bottles up that confidence the rest of the season, DeWitt said his squad has a great opportunity to extend its conference winning streak into a third straight season after posting back-to-back 12-0 marks.

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