It didn’t take long for members of the Northern Illinois women’s basketball team to locate motivational bulletin board material prior to the 2013-14 season.
Despite the number of experienced players the Huskies returned and the talented newcomers they welcomed, so-called experts forecast a last-place finish in the Mid-American Conference standings.
Push pins, please ... got it.
Count former Indian Creek standout and 2013 Indiana All-Star Ally Lehman among the offended.
“My only goal is to have a winning season and be at the top of the MAC. We want to turn heads, and this is an opportunity for us to prove ourselves,” said Lehman, a 5-foot-11 NIU freshman guard/forward. “But the MAC is tough.
“It’s not like you have to worry about one team. It’s the whole group.”
Only 11 games into her college basketball career, Ally Lehman has made a rather abrupt positive impact at Northern Illinois:
Minutes per game average: 26.6
Points per game average: 6.5
Rebounds per game average: 5.6
Assists per game average: 1.6
Next game: Thursday at Toledo
Lehman, who basically double-doubled her way through the previous two winters as the Braves’ top scorer, rebounder, shot-blocker and passer, achieved a personal milestone in only her 11th college game.
Playing a team-high 36 minutes in Saturday’s 74-51 victory against MAC opponent Ohio, Lehman scored 11 points and crashed the glass for a game-best 10 rebounds for her first college double-double.
She also added two assists and a pair of steals.
For the season, Lehman has started nine games for coach Kathi Bennett’s Huskies (5-6) and is averaging 6.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.
The Daily Journal’s 2013 Johnson County Female Athlete of the Year, and two-time Johnson County Player of the Year, starts at the small forward position for the Huskies after playing point guard early on.
“I just like playing,” Lehman said. “I would be fine coming off the bench as long as I’m contributing.”
Like most NCAA Division I athletes, the transition from high school practices, games and road trips has been an eye-opening experience for Lehman.
All 14 players on the NIU roster were stars in their own right at the prep level. The same can be said for those Lehman shares court time with during both MAC and non-conference games.
“The experience has been great so far. I’m surprised I’m playing this big of a role so early, but I’m happy about it,” said Lehman, who finished her Indian Creek basketball career with 1,928 points and over 1,000 rebounds. “The hardest part is, it’s definitely not as easy. I have to work every single minute.
“High school basketball was a little bit lighter on your body. This is a lot of wear and tear.”
Winning at home against Ohio in last weekend’s conference opener proved to be a quality start for the Huskies, who, weather permitting, will play at Toledo on Thursday.
After that it’s a Sunday home battle against Eastern Michigan before setting out on another road trip for MAC games at Central Michigan (Jan. 15) and Miami (Ohio, Jan. 18).
Opportunities aplenty for a program that during the previous four seasons (2009-2013) is 21-43 (.328) against league competition and 43-78 overall.
Engraved invitations to silence all doubters while helping NIU women’s basketball, a five-time NCAA Tournament qualifier in the 1990s, turn an all-important corner with its first winning season since 2006-07.
“It’s real exciting, but it’s nerve-racking, too,” Lehman said. “They ranked us last in the preseason poll, which we have posted up in our locker room. So, yeah, we’re ready.”