With one of the toughest women’s basketball schedules in the nation, eighth-ranked Anoka-Ramsey Community College is learning what it takes to be a top NJCAA Division III program.
Anoka-Ramsey is 4-0 at home, but 0-3 away from Coon Rapids. Coach Dave DeWitt chalks that up to the level of competition, facing Division I programs on the road compared with Division III programs at home, along with a mix of new players finding their way through the college game.
The Golden Rams opened the season with a pair of wins against Wisconsin foes Milwaukee Area Technical College (64-57) and Madison College (70-55) Nov. 8-9.
Anoka-Ramsey had 12 days between games before heading on a three-game road trip with one game in North Dakota and two contests in Arizona in a seven-day span (Nov. 23-30) before returning to Minnesota.
North Dakota State College of Science handed Anoka-Ramsey a 76-55 loss followed by losses to Arizona Western College (78-51) and Cochise College (66-63).
Anoka-Ramsey returned home to pick up wins against MCAC-North Division foes Northland (72-60) and Itasca (71-43), Dec. 6-7.
“It gets us ready down the road to play every team like it’s the best team and it’s still early in the season and we’re just learning [about each other],” sophomore guard Maria Loughlin said. “So it would be nice to see them again at the end of the season.”
Anoka-Ramsey has three consistent scores in sophomores Loughlin, Olivia Antilla and Nicole Schaub.
Antilla, a sophomore forward, leads the team in scoring averaging 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game.
“I’m grateful I have that ability to do that and be a scoring, offensive threat, but we have a lot of others who are able to put the ball in the hoop,” said Antilla, who is playing the post for the first time since fifth grade.
“It’s weird to me but I’m strong and I like roughing people up. I like the running game more because it speeds the game up. We’re not the fastest or most athletic but we can push the ball. We like to make defensive stops and get the ball and go for easy baskets.”
The Osseo native transferred after one season at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and did everything but play in an actual game for Anoka-Ramsey last season, including practice and traveling to away games.
“It helped that I was able to be around the team last year to learn its style,” Antilla said. “I think that was beneficial to me.”
DeWitt coached her during summer AAU basketball for Minnesota Stars between junior and senior high school years. “She’s a player that can score and rebound inside which is something we’ve had trouble doing in the past from that position,” he said.
Loughlin is back after injuring her knee last season and didn’t return to full speed until preseason practices started this fall. The Rogers native earned all-American honors as a freshman after averaging more than 15 points per game.
Schaub, a sophomore from Park Center, is averaging 10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 30.7 minutes per game. She garnered all-MCAC Southern Division honors last season averaging 12 points and five rebounds per game. Add in Nicole Howard (eight points and four rebounds per game) and Erica Parker (five points and four rebounds per game) and the depth of the Golden Rams is there.
First-year guard Mataya Racek (Legend, Colo.) and forward Ashley Carter (Totino-Grace) help add to the depth and Carter adds a second physical presence in the paint.
DeWitt likes how aggressive Loughlin and Antilla attack the basket to generate free throws, which the team is making at a 77.2 percent pace.
“We’re getting the right people to the line, so that is helpful,” he said.
McLaughlin is converting at an 88.4 percent rate and Antilla at 70.4 percent. “In the past we’ve settled for the outside shot instead of attacking the basket, which is what these kids do,” DeWitt said.
Antilla said the success in the games is a product of the work put in during practice.
“We do it a lot at the end of practice,” she said. “Tight situations where you have to score or there is a consequence. There’s an emphasis to make it from the free throw line.”
Antilla and Loughlin each had 21 points to lead the way past Northland. Antilla was one rebound short of a double-double with nine and Loughlin went 12-for-12 at the free throw line. The Golden Rams converted 21-of-23 free throws in the game, but struggled to make three pointers (seven-of-27, 25.9 percent).
The Golden Rams is still a shooting team and shot .379 from the field, lower than DeWitt has grown accustomed to seeing from his teams. As a result, improved team defense is what he believes will be needed as the season moves along. “We’re still trying to figure things out because we’ve beat some good teams and lost to some good teams,” he said. “We’ve got to shoot the ball better, especially outside the arch and play more efficient offense.
“We also have to get better defending because we’re not going to generate as many turnovers as in the past. We’re better rebounding and have to limit the other team to one shot [per possession].”
The addition of Carter helps cut down how physical the opposition becomes in the paint, where rebounding is crucial to the success.
“The premium will be on how solid you are defensively not necessarily generating turnovers but not giving up easy shots,” DeWitt said. “If people beat us, they’ll have to do it from the perimeter. We can’t give easy looks inside.”
Anoka-Ramsey hits the road to MCAC Northern Division foes Hibbing and Rainy River Dec. 13-14 before returning home with a four-game home stand against Bismarck State (Dec. 20 at 6 p.m.); Vermilion (Dec. 21 at 3 p.m.); Wisconsin-Stout JV (Jan. 3 at 3 p.m.); and North Dakota School of Science (Jan. 4 at 3 p.m.).
Jason Olson is at