By ANDY WOLF
Unsurprisingly, the University of Findlay womenâ€™s basketball team is excited for todayâ€™s home game against Lake Erie College.
The Oilers havenâ€™t had one in 44 days.
Instead, theyâ€™ve hit the road for their last eight games in that span and last played in Niekamp Arena on Nov. 19.
Findlay went 3-5 in that stretch and is 6-7 overall, 2-1 in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference entering todayâ€™s 5:30 p.m. league clash with the Storm (5-10, 2-2 GMAC).
â€œJust being back with our home crowd is always fun,â€ sophomore starting point guard Amber Schweiger said. â€œWeâ€™re focusing right now on us. So being in our environment is definitely going to help us out.â€
That long away from home could be tough on even the most veteran teams.
But the Oilers graduated all five starters from last yearâ€™s squad and boast a youthful roster ready to prove what they can do.
Findlay is 3-1 at home so far, 2-6 on the road and 1-0 in a neutral site game.
So far, head coach Jim Wiedie is â€œa little disappointedâ€ with the start, thinking theyâ€™d â€œbe 2-3 games better.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve just been inconsistent,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re turning the ball over way too much and weâ€™re fouling (too much). Itâ€™s a really bad combination.â€
The disappointment isnâ€™t as much losing to accomplished powers in No. 4 Ashland, No. 3 Grand Valley State and Nova Southeastern â€” but dropping the winnable games: vs. Wayne State (81-75), at Davenport (73-70) and at Hillsdale (91-72).
â€œFor a young team, itâ€™s probably not the best schedule to have,â€ Wiedie said.
Thatâ€™s because of the eight players to start for UF so far, five are sophomores. One player in each of the other classes has started as well.
Wiedie is hoping the tough, early tests will pay off as conference play heats up.
For Schweiger, itâ€™s helped them adapt to a different environment every week.
â€œWhat we do is what the outcome is going to be,â€ Schweiger said. â€œIf weâ€™re not focused, then weâ€™re not going to win.â€
Still, the Oilers arenâ€™t without improvements.
Schweiger has seen the teamâ€™s IQ and pace get better as each player is tasked with settling into their role â€” however large or small in Wiedieâ€™s rotation that can go 12-deep.
UF is led in scoring by four sophomores, two in double figures.
Six-foot-three forward Sydney Kin (Carey) averages 13.2 points and 7.4 rebounds while 6-0 forward Paige Bellman (Columbus Grove adds 10.8 ppg and 8.5 rpg.
Bridget Landin (6-0 forward) chips in 8.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg and Schweiger puts in 8.8 ppg with a team-high 41 assists.
The Oilers average 72.5 points per game â€” right on par with last yearâ€™s veteran squad at 71.2 ppg â€” yet only shoot 39.6 percent from the field, 28.9 percent from 3-point range.
Theyâ€™ve relied on a steady diet of offensive rebounds and free throw trips â€” the latter at 21.6 attempts per game.
Schweigerâ€™s recipe for improvement is simple.
â€œFinishing our layups and shooting the ball better from the outside is our key,â€ she said.
UFâ€™s defense has been even spottier at times, allowing 80 or more points in five of seven losses.
Most recently, the Oilers led the first three quarters against Nova Southeastern, an Elite 8 team last season, but allowed 28 points in the fourth to fall 70-63.
On the horizon is a stretch of six of eight GMAC games at home for the Oilers, starting with the Storm.
Lake Erie presents two unique defensive challenges in its two leading scorers and the GMACâ€™s second-best scoring duo in senior Josie Chaddock (17.8 ppg) and junior Breanna Bauer (15.6 ppg).
Chaddock, a second-team all-GMAC pick last year, is a 1,000-point scorer and a 5-7 slashing guard with respectable outside range. Bauer is a 6-0 forward but has expanded her range to 12 3-pointers in 14 games.
â€œWe talked about being locked in on who their best players are,â€ Wiedie said.
Also part of that group for Lake Erie is senior and 3-point threat Farrah Benner (7.2 ppg). Benner is only shooting 28.7 percent from 3 this season, but the Oilers saw firsthand how deadly she can be after her eight made triples in UFâ€™s 80-61 win last year in Findlay.
For Schweiger, the biggest defensive emphasis is to â€œstop fouling.â€
Wiedie shared the same sentiment as one of his three big areas for improvement of â€œturnovers, the dumb fouls and our overall execution defensively.â€
UFâ€™s starting lineups have changed over the course of the season as Wiedie believes in rewarding those for playing at a high level.
Schweiger and lone senior Lauren Ruth (6.7 ppg) have been the two mainstays to start all 13 games.
Landin, Kin and Bellman have swapped in and out at the two forward spots, making 11, nine and six starts, respectively.
At the other off-ball guard spot has been sophomore Lilly Simon (3.2 ppg) for the first seven games, freshman Elizabeth Flynn (6.1 ppg) for four games and junior Madison Stolly (5.9 ppg) for the past two.
â€œItâ€™s all going to take one or two small things and hopefully all the gears will start turning in the right direction,â€ Schweiger said.
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