BLUFFTON — After a 2011-12 season in which the Bluffton women’s basketball team finished with an 8-17 overall record and a seventh place finish in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, a fresh start seems needed.
Bluffton seems to have every opportunity in front of them to get that fresh start.
A total of 12 freshmen, and zero seniors on a team of 19 players give the Beavers a very young team to work with. Then, the most recent component to their fresh start: A season opening-win in the Sommer Center’s debut home game.
Bluffton accomplished this by defeating Aurora University 54-46 in the opening round of the annual Bluffton Tip-Off Tournament and will take on the winner of the Pitt-Greensburg vs. Hiram game at 3 p.m. today in the finals. In the 40-year history of the Tip-Off, Bluffton has never won both games.
“There’s so much excitement and anticipation to get into the new building,” Bluffton coach Chad Shutler said. “I think it’s important to set the tone. We’re really trying to start a new tradition here in a new building of a new team, new ideas, new goals, new values. We needed to come out and play as hard as we could to set the tone for how this team was going to compete on a nightly basis, and I thought we did that tonight.”
Bluffton showed a very competitive team throughout the game, getting an early lead and holding it through the first 18 minutes. After falling behind 27-25 at halftime, the Beavers were able to reclaim the lead early in the second half and hold that lead for good.
“It means a lot to get this kind of start,” said forward Lauren Hutton. “Hopefully we can keep this going and finally win this tournament.”
Hutton is one of just two juniors, the other being Kylee Burkholder, that lead Bluffton’s team from an experience standpoint. However, the idea of anyone being this team’s leader is something players like Burkholder want to do away with.
“It’s a team effort,” Burkholder said. “We’re there more to just support and encourage the younger players. That’s something that we’re trying to stress this year. It isn’t freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. It’s Bluffton University basketball. I think we kind of got away from that last year, and we want to become a family again.”
Some of those younger players stepped up in key positions for Bluffton on Friday night. Brooke Ruffer and Mikayla Coburn each scored a team-high 10 points, Kaitlyn Pennekamp had 4 steals. Freshman point guard Taylor Knight also made a big impact, scoring nine points to go along with seven rebounds and two steals.
“I was definitely very nervous tonight,” Knight said. “Being a freshman point guard is a really big deal to me because it’s what I’ve being working up to. This team helps take a lot of pressure off though, and I don’t think of myself necessarily as the quarterback.”