By: Jill Wunrow (@JillWunrow)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - With the Horizon League Preseason Polls recently being released, it's no secret the 14-time defending regular season Horizon League Champion Green Bay women's basketball team has high expectations to repeat as projected in the preseason poll.
With the nation's longest streak for regular season conference championships, it's a wonder why Green Bay had only two players recognized on the Preseason All-League teams, especially since the Phoenix returns four starters from the 2011-12 season, tied for the most among league teams.
"Polls are ranked on numbers, if you score a lot of points you'll get placed high in the polls," said Phoenix head coach Kevin Borseth.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in being left off the preseason teams is Green Bay senior Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.), who has been in the Phoenix starting line-up since her freshman season and considered the team's top defender. According to the polls, she might also be the team's most underrated player.
"I don't feel slighted. The people that were selected to the preseason teams are well-deserving of the recognition but I also think we could have had more players on the teams," Eichler said. "People that voted are looking for the player that's going to step up and fill the void of Julie (Wojta), and I think Adrian (Ritchie) and Lydia (Bauer) are the next in line to potentially do that. However, what some people may fail to realize is how versatile our team is."
Polls are considered 'a sampling or collection of opinions on a subject, taken from either a selected or a random group of persons for the purpose of analysis.' With 27 voters participating in the preseason poll, Eichler did receive several votes and if a Third Team All-League existed, she would have been on it. Nonetheless, as history proves, Green Bay players thrive on flying under the radar and in some cases are used to it.
During Eichler's junior year at Grafton High School, senior teammate Rachael Hencke was being recruited by Borseth, who was in his final year at his first stint with the Phoenix at that time. It was the first time Borseth had seen Eichler play, and while watching Green Bay from Michigan he made an instant observation of what he refers to as "a freight train."
"When Sarah was recruited at Green Bay, I was wondering how I did not recognize her play while I was recruiting Rachael," Borseth said. "Lo and behold, as time progressed and I watched the team, she was the kid I felt was Green Bay's toughness."
Eichler earned much-deserved accolades her senior year in high school, having been named the Associated Press Player of the Year while helping guide Grafton to a Division 2 state title. In sticking with numbers and the importance they play in polls and rankings, during her junior year with the Phoenix, Eichler posted career-high numbers, averaging 9.9 points and 27.4 minutes per game. The 5-foot-11 forward finished fifth in the league in free-throw percentage (84.4) and eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8). She also scored a game-high 16 points in the NCAA Tournament first round game against Iowa State, including four three-pointers.
"She's valuable. The only regular season game Green Bay lost last year (vs. Detroit, Feb. 9) was the one she wasn't playing in," Borseth said. "I don't know how or if you can put a number on that."
Like a typical Green Bay player, numbers, polls, and rankings, do not mean anything for the success of the team or an individual's performance.
"I'm just the kind of person that has no problem dishing out assists for the hot player. If we need a layup at a certain point, I can step up and do that but I want the people around me to do well; that's just as important as putting points on the board," Eichler said. "I respect Adrian and Lydia for getting the recognition but they also respect me. Someone's opinion from the outside looking in doesn't mean as much to me as someone who is with me every day."
"She's the toughest. She busts it and sells the farm on every play while producing results. Quite frankly from the short time span I've spent with her in terms of her athleticism and production output, I'd be hard-pressed to find a player in Green Bay history better than her," said Borseth. "She's our toughness, the kid that gets the rest of them going."
Eichler may use her recent poll slight as fuel for her play this season but knows she also needs to produce numbers if she has a desire to continue playing after college. In the meantime, Eichler is focused on the team and how far it can go.
Besides, no matter what numbers Eichler posts in her final season with the Phoenix, what she'll remember most are the games she thrived on her favorite aspect of the game, defense. During the 2010 NCAA Tournament, as a freshman, Eichler was matched up against All-American Monica Wright on man-to-man sequences in the team's first round upset of Virginia.
"There's more satisfaction to me in standing someone up on a dribble drive than making a layup on someone else," said Eichler.
"She's a player we're going to rally around a lot more than people would think," Borseth added.
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