As Southeast Missouri State University's women prepare for a lengthy holiday break, coach Ed Arnzen couldn't be much happier with the way first-semester play has gone.
The Otahkians, who won't see action again until they host Missouri Baptist Jan. 2, will carry a 6-3 record into the holidays after Saturday night's resounding 90-41 rout of visiting Samford.
"I am very pleased," said Arnzen. "If before the season started, if you said we would be 6-3 at this point, I would have been really happy.
"We lost a game at Northern Illinois and we lost a game to Montana in the Texas-Pan American Tournament. I would have liked to have played those two again. Although both are good teams, I think we had a good shot at both of them. But I think we've made a lot of progress and I think this team will continue to get better."
Arnzen said what has probably been the most pleasant surprise about the season so far is the way the Otahkians have shot the ball. They lead the Ohio Valley Conference in overall field-goal percentage at 45.8 and are also first in the OVC in 3-point field-goal percentage at a sizzling 47.1.
"I thought overall we could be a good shooting club, but never in my wildest dreams did I think we could shoot from 3 at almost a 50 percent clip. That has been a surprise to me," he said. "You wonder if that will continue for the year. Other than Duke, not many clubs can do that. I doubt if we'll continue to do that, but if we get the right people shooting the ball, I think we can continue to shoot well."
Although there have been some lapses, Arnzen said the Otahkians have been at their best when they get after things on the defensive end. Southeast leads the OVC in field-goal percentage defense, allowing the opposition to shoot just 40.3 percent.
"When we play with a lot of energy on defense, I think we're a good club," he said. "I know Samford is not a good club, but we're not 49 points better than them. It was because we played with a lot of energy on defense and really disrupted them. If we continue to do that, I think we'll be fine."
Junior forward Lori Chase, a first-team all-OVC selection last year as she led the Otahkians in scoring, is also topping the squad this year at 16.3 points per game, which ranks fifth in the league. In addition, she is Southeast's leading rebounder with 6.7 a contest.
Senior guard Veronica Benson is Southeast's only other double-figure scorer (11.9 ppg), but the Otahkians are receiving plenty of contributions from a host of other players.
Eight more players are averaging at least nine minutes of action per game, with five averaging at least six points per contest: sophomore guard Christine Rathke (8.8), senior center Pam Iversen (7.6). sophomore center Tisa Thomas (7.0), junior forward Tiffany Melis (6.2) and junior guard LaShelle Porter (6.0).
Arnzen, whose squad will have had more than three weeks off when it plays its next game, said he has always believed in giving his players a lengthy holiday break. The Otahkians practiced Tuesday and will practice today, then they'll head home and won't have to return for practice until Dec. 26.
"I'm a big believer in family and that the holidays should be spent with family," he said. "When we recruit our players, we tell them they will have the longest break in Division I.
"I think what you lose in timing and conditioning, you make it up in enthusiasm."