Bulldogs Focused on Big-Picture Prize During Record-Setting Season

first_img“What I’m most in awe with her about is that she’s such a risk taker,” Baranczyk said. “Sometimes it’s off. Most of the time it’s not. But I can live with those times she’s off, because she’s going for it. Not that many people have that quality to just go for something.” Baranczyk’s deep-seeded beliefs are reflected by Ingle and Wendell.A love to compete, and a love for basketball? That’s Ingle. She’s not afraid of failure. “That’s special to me,” Wendell said. “Drake is a really good school, and it’s tough. We have to put in the time to study and get those grades. The coaches definitely put school first. So I think it makes it less stressful and more fun to go out on the court, and drop everything for the hours we’re there.” The message works. Becca Hittner, a guard, is a leading candidate to become the fourth straight Drake player to be named the MVC’s freshman of the year, following Sara Rhine, Maddy Dean and Wendell. Baranczyk’s coaching style is player friendly. Everyone plays. Team first. “The true form of competition is not hoping that other people do bad,” Baranczyk said. “It’s you bringing your best.” The board in the locker room, the one with all those statistical goals? It also included several messages that speak to Baranczyk’s core beliefs. “Have Fun, Be Fun,” she had written. And “We Are.” But nothing speaks to the program’s culture more than this: Baranczyk had drawn three hearts on the board.  Love Basketball. Love to Compete. Love Drake. “I do think it’s special, and I don’t want to overlook it because it’s one of the many things this team has done,” Drake’s fifth-year coach said. “But I think what’s even more special is that we didn’t set out on a mission to do anything other than continue to focus on getting better, and having fun doing it.” The numbers she spoke of were the ones Drake women’s basketball Coach Jennie Baranczyk had posted on the board in the locker room before the game. Numbers representing offensive goals and defensive goals. “Our culture is very simple,” Baranczyk said. “We do have the Bulldog Way. That’s department wide. We’ve identified what we do as loving basketball. Loving to compete. And loving Drake.” Heady stuff for a team led by senior all-MVC players Lizzy Wendell and Caitlin Ingle. But those accomplishments are just fancy wrapping on Drake’s ultimate present. Inside, you’ll find the big prize. “Love, that’s the strongest emotion there is,” Baranczyk said. “People throw around the word love. And even though you intensely love something, it doesn’t mean that it always makes you happy, either. It’s just an incredible emotion. It’s definitely not easy. That’s where that evolution started.” This love culture was created halfway through Baranczyk’s first season at the school. “All the girls Jennie has brought in have been great,” Wendell said. “We spend all of our time together. It’s easy, natural relationships we’ve got. And we love playing basketball, and we love playing with each other. We share the ball. We score a lot of points. That makes it fun, too. And playing with your best friends really makes it fun and you love it.” The last piece is loving your school, both on and off the court. “We have high expectations for everyone on our team,” Baranczyk said. “Our bench doesn’t come in to relieve starters. Our bench needs to produce. And we don’t talk about roles. Everyone needs to rebound. Everyone needs to be able to score. We don’t put them in a box and tell them, “This is what your job is.” “Lizzy turns to her and says, “Shoot the ball,’ ” Baranczyk recalled. “If you’re not going to shoot an open shot, that’s not going to help any of us.’ How many prolific scorers say that to a freshman?” By: Rick Brown – 11-time Sportswriter of the Year in IowaSpecial to www.GoDrakeBulldogs.comSammie Bachrodt had just checked out of Drake’s game against Bradley on Feb. 12 when she looked at the Knapp Center scoreboard to her right and did a quick study of the numbers. Wendell, whose impressive streak of 102 consecutive games scoring in double figures ended in the win at Indiana State on Feb. 17, said she’s proud of is what the team has accomplished so far. But the desire to do more is what drives her. “That’s what sets us apart,” said Ingle, the MVC’s career assists leader. “That’s what Jennie builds this program on. If you love each other, you’re going to have a lot of fun.”center_img “We don’t just recruit talent, we recruit fit,” Baranczyk said. “We try to get talented players, obviously. Versatile players. But our players have a big say in what’s going on, so our recruits can identify our culture before they get here. Whether or not they pick us, it’s up to their feel. So they come in as the Bulldog Way. They don’t come in to buy in.” “Every year she’s added a little bit more to her game,” Baranczyk said. “A lot is what she’s added mentally. She’s never been on the all-American Watch List and all that, because she’s not flashy. She just comes to play every day. We don’t run sets for her. That was never the goal. But that’s also part of the culture. No one is bigger than anybody else.” Baranczyk recalls one workout before the season started. Hittner had an open shot, but passed the ball to Wendell. Baranczyk has taken the foundation of the Bulldog Way, and added to it as she built her coaching philosophy.  “We’ve got all of our goals, and we’re still in the third quarter,” Bachrodt told a teammate. “We’ve really been trying to get better each day, take it day by day, game by game, and not to look too far ahead,” Wendell said. “Just focus on the present. And I think that’s really helped us this season.” “I don’t think we have a buy in,” Baranczyk said. “I think we are the Bulldog Way.” “Our goal at the end of the day is obviously to make the NCAA Tournament,” Ingle said. “But taking it game by game, that’s what we’ve learned. We have to get better in conference play. It doesn’t matter who we play. The focus is in details. Just staying in the system and playing basketball. It’s built on love.” Baranczyk recruits to the culture she’s established. A 22-4 record, 16 straight wins overall, a Top 25 ranking and an MVC record for consecutive wins to start a season are nice, Ingle admits, but it’s not the ultimate goal. Baranczyk has embraced “The Bulldog Way,” the cornerstone of the athletic department’s culture of excellence with integrity.  She believes in the principles, and uses them as teaching points with her team:Integrity. Commitment to excellence. Outworking and outhustling opponents while chasing championships. Desiring the best for, and expecting the best from, each other. Maximizing potential by aspiring to greatness.This is more than a vision that looks good on paper but collects dust on a shelf. It lives in 12 players in Drake uniforms, striving for excellence as a team. So what makes us, Baranczyk asked her coaching staff. You’ve got to love the game, for one. And you’ve got to love to compete. Love? Wendell’s all in. Wendell represents Baranczyk’s mission statement. Instead of resting on her laurels, she’s doing all she can to get better. “You’ve got to love what’s on your chest, the whole experience,” Baranczyk said. “Because if it’s not going well in the classroom, it’s not going well here. If you’re not doing well here, you’re not going to do well in the community.” Basketball is about numbers, after all. And Drake’s 98-46 victory against Bradley that Sunday improved its Missouri Valley Conference record to 13-0, the best start in league history. It also clinched the Bulldogs’ third consecutive 20-win season. A day later, Baranczyk’s team was 25th in the Associated Press poll, the first time the program had been rated since the 2001-02 season. One week later, the team rose to No. 21 in the rankings after it extended its record-setting streak to 15-0 in the MVC. Drake is averaging 83.1 points a game. But just as impressive is the fact that in the last three years, the team grade-point average has ranked in the Top 10 nationally. 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