INDIANOLA — Jenna Taylor’s breakout season continued Wednesday in a 25-point performance as the Simpson College women defeated Nebraska Wesleyan, 84-58 at Cowles Fieldhouse.
The junior from Creston currently ranks second in the American Rivers Conference in scoring at 17.8 points per game and third in rebounding at 7.4.
The Storm improved to 12-3 and 4-2 in the American Rivers, just a half-game out of first place behind Wartburg, Loras and Luther. Nebraska Wesleyan fell to 8-6 and 3-2. Guard Caitlin Navratil finished with 18 points and six rebounds for the Prairie Wolves. Coming into the game she was leading Taylor in the conference scoring race at 22.3 per game.
Taylor and point guard Claire Johnson are the only returning starters for Simpson’s new-look lineup. With 6-2 post player and 2017-18 scoring leader Noreen Morrow graduated, the 6-0 Taylor has moved to the center position in a faster lineup, initiating much of its high-scoring offense through defensive pressure. Taylor plays at the back of the press.
She still gets her share of 3-point attempts, however, hitting 43.2 percent from behind the arc (32 of 74), second on the team in successful 3-point attempts behind guard Janey Botkins (40-93).
On Saturday the Storm made an NCAA Division III season-high 20 3-pointers in a 102-65 victory at the University of Dubuque. The team leads the conference in scoring (80.1 ppg), free throw shooting (74.3) and 3-pointers (9.4 per game). The team is on pace to break the season total of made 3-pointers, 216 in the 2011-12 season.
With eight rebounds Wednesday, Taylor nearly posted her sixth double-double of the season. Taylor has reached double-figures scoring in 17 straight games dating back to last season. She leads the league in field goal percentage (54.2). Taylor has already earned American Rivers Conference Player of the Week honors three times.
After Wednesday’s win, Taylor said she’s enjoying the faster pace in Simpson’s successful start to the season.
“We’re definitely trying to get up and down the floor more,” Taylor said. “I’m the five now, so it’s a little different than last year. I post up inside and try to get outside a little bit. I was used to playing down there in high school.”
Taylor, majoring in accounting and economics/finance, stayed in Indianola over the summer and worked as an intern for LWBJ, an accounting firm in West Des Moines.
Taylor’s progress this season is no accident. She and several teammates shot daily on campus over the summer, with many of them involved in pickup games twice a week with teammates and other players from NAIA and NCAA Division II teams staying in the area over the summer.
“We were using the facilities every day and working hard,” said Taylor, who missed her freshman season with a lower leg stress fracture. “Last year I was still kind of struggling with the speed of the (college) game. This year I’ve adjusted more and it helps that I’m in the back of the press, instead of up at the front. I let them do all the hard work up at the front of the press. I’m able to play more minutes than last year.”
Coach Brian Niemuth has been impressed with Taylor’s progress as a second-year starter.
“Jenna has had a great start to this season,” Niemuth said. “After having had a redshirt year her first year because of injury and moving into a starting position her second year, she has blossomed into one of the best players in the league. This didn’t just happen. She has worked hard in the last year improving her skills and conditioning. She leads by example and I’m thrilled when you can see someone’s hard work pay off for them. I’m sure her teammates notice the correlation between her work ethic and her improvement.”
Josie Clarke, 6-1 sophomore post player from Nodaway Valley, appeared briefly in Wednesday’s game. She had one rebound and did not score. Clarke played six minutes at Dubuque Saturday, finishing with a pair of rebounds.
The Storm travels to Pella on Jan. 16 for a 6 p.m. tipoff against Central College.