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Rebuilt, talented and deep, NKU women aim for Horizon League championship, NCAA berth

By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports editor

The rebuilding job is officially complete for the women’s basketball program at Northern Kentucky University. Now, the next step for head coach Camryn Whitaker is to win a Horizon League championship and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

After three straight losing seasons, the Norse enjoyed a turnaround campaign in 2019-20 with a 20-12 record and a trip to the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament. Only a last-second 50-49 loss to Green Bay kept NKU from advancing to the championship game.

NKU head coach Camryn Whitaker has rebuilt the Norse women’s basketball program into a Horizon League contender. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Whitaker welcomes back four starters and nine letterwinners from that squad. NKU also adds a group of talented newcomers that includes University of Louisville transfer Lindsey Duvall.

Having inherited a talent-depleted program in 2016, Whitaker has gradually rebuilt NKU into a Horizon League contender. She also knows the reason for the big turnaround last season.

“Our junior class was the first we recruited here,” she said. “It just takes time when you’re trying to build something a certain way, build a certain culture of how to play. I think that just took us time.

“I think around January we really started playing well, catching a rhythm and figuring out the rotations.”

Junior guard Ally Niece is NKU’s top returning player. The Simon Kenton High School graduate averaged 13.1 points per game last season and was named second team All-Horizon League. Niece was also named Horizon League Player of the Week in early March.

“I thought we switched our mindset from worrying about who were were playing to worrying about us,” Niece said of the turnaround. “Coach really pounded into our heads that we need to think about us and play our game versus worrying about who we’re playing.”

NKU also welcomes back sophomore guard Ivy Turner, who averaged 8.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season. The Danville High School graduate made a big impression on Whitaker as a rookie.

NKU’s Ivy Turner averaged 8.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“I thought Ivy Turner should have been (Horizon League) Freshman of the Year,” Whitaker said. “I thought she was the best freshman in our conference.”

Junior post player Emmy Souder (8.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and senior forward Kailey Coffey (5.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg) provide experience inside. Sophomore guard Carissa Garcia (7.3 ppg) is a talented offensive performer who twice was named Horizon League Freshman of the Week.

NKU’s recruiting class features freshman guard Ellie Taylor, whom Whitaker believes will make an immediate impact.

“She is a long, athletic guard,” Whitaker said. “One of the best passers I think I’ve ever coached. (She) sees the floor well.

“I’m pleasantly surprised. She brings something a little bit different that we really haven’t had in the past.”

NKU begins the season Wednesday night at Cincinnati. NKU leads the all-time series 10-9, but the teams have split all four meetings since the Norse reclassified to NCAA Division I with the home team prevailing in all four meetings.

Cincinnati posted a 49-31 victory over NKU in 2012-13 in the Norse’s first-ever game as a Division I program. NKU claimed the next two meetings in 2013-14 (77-61) and 2014-15 (66-52). The Bearcats earned a 71-68 win during the 2015-16 season.

Junior guard Ally Niece (25) is NKU’s top returning player. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Don Owen is sports editor of the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport.

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