Yoder transitioning game to next level

Move from high school to college basketball is big step

Contributed photo

Goshen College's Suzanna Yoder (white uniform), who graduated from Iowa Mennonite School (now Hillcrest Academy) gets a rebound playing for the Maple Leafs earlier this season.
Contributed photo Goshen College's Suzanna Yoder (white uniform), who graduated from Iowa Mennonite School (now Hillcrest Academy) gets a rebound playing for the Maple Leafs earlier this season.

GOSHEN, Ind. — Transitioning is always a complicated process regardless of what the transition involves. For Suzanna Yoder, the transition from a high school basketball play at Iowa Mennonite School (now Hillcrest Academy) to college at Goshen is a continuing process.

Goshen is a nationally-ranked Christian liberal arts college in Indiana known for leadership in international education, sustainability and social justice.

The Maple Leafs play in the Crossroads League, an athletic conference composed of 10 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics private Christian colleges in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Four schools are currently ranked in the NAIA Division II women’s basketball rankings.

Goshen’s record is 7-11 overall, 0-6 in the league.

“Suzanna has done a wonderful job working to adapt to the college game,” Goshen head women’s basketball coach Stephanie Miller said. “She has recognized the areas where she needs growth, and works hard to close the gap on any weaknesses, while also staying focused on remaining sharp in her strength areas. The length of the season, competition level in the Crossroads League, and the size and strength of collegiate athletes are all very different for transition freshman. She has handled all of these changes very maturely.”

One aspect of basketball has presented the biggest challenge for Yoder in the transition to the next level of play.

“One of the biggest differences in college basketball is that everyone plays really good defense,” Yoder said. “And that is the biggest difference for me. It has been having to step up my game on defense. I really have to focus in on it and figure out how to keep my player in front of me.”

The defensive play is one of many obstacles for a freshman athlete.

“The biggest hurdle Suzanna has had to work through is learning a new collegiate system and trying to help manage games, while still feeling free to play and just use her natural skills,” Miller said. “New players, especially if they run any guard position, have to focus on organizing and being a general on the court.”

Being in a new system at a new school at a new level of play can be overwhelming for a new player.

“So new players are caught thinking so much about what we are doing out on the court, that sometimes natural instincts aren’t truly seen until they get more comfortable,” Miller said.

How newcomers transition to the new level of play is something the coach plans for.

“We have addressed this issue by working to put them in many uncomfortable and fast-paced thinking situations at practice with our practice squad,” Miller said. “With Suzanna, we do that so that she gets used to working through the quick thinking and changes.”

As any freshman would, Yoder has good days and bad days as she adjusts to this.

“What’s special about a player like Suzanna, is that if she hits a rough day at practice or has a difficult game, she is very motivated to get back in the gym and get better,” Miller said. “She has been very open to constructive criticism, and truly wants to be coached so that she can reach her potential as a player and a teammate.”

Yoder averaged 27.5 points a game as a senior at IMS, second in the state of Iowa regardless of class. She has played in all 18 games at Goshen as a freshman and started in four. She is averaging 17 minutes a game, 2.1 rebounds and 4.8 points per contest. She has made 26-of-60 field goals including 12-of-42 3-pointers. She is 23-for-30 on free throws. She has 13 steals and 28 assists.

“We knew coming in that Suzanna’s quick trigger would translate to the college game, and that she would need to work on physical strength and some of the finer defensive principles needed to be able hold off her opponent and work on the help side of our defense,” Miller said. “None of this has been a surprise.”

“I love my coach and my team,” Yoder said. “These are two reasons that I chose Goshen. Coach Miller really emphasizes team chemistry and plans a lot of team bonding to make sure we spend time together. All the girls are invested in relationships with one another and we truly care about each other. Yes we are all competing for playing time, but it feels like everyone wants the best for you.”

Read tomorrow’s Union for more on Yoder’s first year at college.