Things came together at the perfect time for Oberlin women’s basketball team last year.
The Yeowomen won nine of their last 12 games — including their first North Coast Athletic Conference tournament win since 1999. They almost one-upped themselves in the NCAC semifinals, taking powerhouse DePauw — ranked 12th in the nation — to the wire in a 58-54 loss.
Oberlin returns all five starters from last season with sights set on a bigger prize. The NCAC has taken notice, tabbing the Yeowomen to finish third as the only team other than DePauw to receive a first-place vote.
“It’s definitely a source of our motivation,” said junior center Olivia Canning. “We want to try to better it, get to the point where we can beat them and get to that next level. There was a point in that game where we all realized we could actually beat them and I don’t know if we had done that as a team that. We realized we could be the No. 1 team if we want to and now that we know that we can carry that with us throughout the season.”
Canning will once again play a major role for the Yeowomen. At 6-foot-4, she will anchor what will likely be one of the league’s top defenses again in 2018. She set a school record with 103 blocks in 2017 — second to only Denison’s Jordan Holmes, who had 160. Canning, however, had 69 more than the next closest player and her 3.81 blocks per game ranked eighth in Division III. She also grabbed a team-high 7.3 rebounds.
She plays next to 6-foot forward Abby Andrews, who was third on the team in scoring with 9.5 points per game and averaged 5.6 rebounds.
Canning said she worked a lot on her hook shot this offseason to become a more lethal scoring threat, hoping to improve from her 10 points per game in 2017. She also worked on her footing to keep herself out of foul trouble more consistently this year.
“She got better when she realized that her presence sometimes is enough to deter shots,” coach Kerry Jenkins said of Canning. “Early on in her sophomore year, she was ultra aggressive. She was trying to block everything and getting herself in foul trouble. Subsequently, we had trouble keeping her on the court. But as the season progressed, she realized that it’s not about being able to block everything, sometimes the threat of being blocked is enough. So she’s learned to position herself in a way that here mere presence impacts the shot and she doesn’t have to always get the blocked shot.”
Oberlin’s defense isn’t just limited to the post. The Yeowomen return a trio of talented guards who cause havoc on the perimeter. Junior Alex Stipano led the team in steals with 34 and was also the Yeowomen’s top scorer, averaging 10.1 points per game. Tyler Parlor brings plenty of versatility — second in rebounding at 5.9 per game and averaged 6.7 points last year — and point guard Sarah Thompson led the team in assists with 68.
Stipano described Thompson as a steady force who keeps the team together when things start to break down, which will come in handy if Oberlin is to reach the heights it’s aiming for.
“We realize we could honestly play with anyone, even beyond DePauw,” Stipano said. “We could play with the top teams in Division III. Since they are one of the top teams and we were that close, we believe that, especially against teams in the NCAC. We should be one of the top teams. We’re coming into the season with that mentality and we know what we have to do. We have to work hard in practice, we can’t have days off.”