(ATCHISON, Ks.) Benedictine women's basketball hasn't played a game since December 1st and is in the midst of their winter break practices.
But it's an upbeat atmosphere around the program and Chad Folsom's high-octane practices, as the ladies have hit the ground running this year in a way they haven't before in Division I.
Folsom, in his 12th year as head coach of the Ravens, has found success before in Atchison. But he could be looking at his most talented group since the program jumped to the NAIA Division I level.
"We've had some teams in the past that have been successful like this," he said. "We've had a 30-5 team and a 29-6 team. I'd say this team reminds me a lot of those teams.: The Ravens have cracked the top 25 poll for the first time in D-I, sitting at 22nd in the country. Plus, their 11-1 start is a program-best. "It's exciting to see us get back to the opportunity to get back to a title. I think the pieces are here this year to go for that." "I did not realize quite the history we were making until coach told us," JUCO transfer guard Justice Payne said. "But I think people are really anticipating conference play and making a statement. Winning the Heart of America Athletic Conference is on a lot of people's mind, especially the seniors who haven't done it yet." For a group of seniors without a HAAC title to their credit, this is just the beginning of the journey. But there's already a new confidence hovering over this year's ravens team. "I definitely can tell a difference," sophomore guard and Bishop LeBlond alum Jackie Ziesel said. "We've been working hard every day in practice, we're mentally tough, we're stronger, faster. It's totally a new experience."
"When we practice, we're all focused. We come in with an emphasis on our goals," Payne said. "We're held a lot more accountable than we ever were at my JUCO."
Benedictine is just one of three HAAC teams in the Top 25, and with squads sporting the most talented groups Folsom has seen in-conference, the real tests are still to come.
"Every team gets better and better each year," he said. "We've got some good coaches in the league and you've got to bring your a game every night."
"With conference play coming up second semester, they're going to know us and know our strengths and weaknesses," Ziesel said. "We've got to stay focused and work on that."
The Ravens head to Florida for the Daytona Beach Shootout Dec. 19th-20th.