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Like having too many chefs in the kitchen, having too many players in practice is no recipe for success. At least that's what Molly McGraw and her Illinois Wesleyan basketball teammates have discovered since the roster shrank from 21 last year to 13.

BLOOMINGTON — Few philosophies of coaching are more commonly shared than the one about outworking the opposition.

Talent, coaches tell us, only takes you so far and sweat equity does the rest.

Such thinking has become gospel, but the Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball team has rocked the boat a bit this year with 90-minute practices that are an hour shorter than last year.

Before we accuse Coach Mia Smith of going soft, it's important to note her 13 players — the smallest group in her 20 years at the Titan helm — are doing as much as they did last year when the squad had 21 players.

"Before, you might be standing in a line for 10, 15 seconds and now you get done with a drill and you have to get right back in it," she said.

"I actually like the shorter time because whether you are practicing or standing in a drill, you're still standing. That's hard on our legs. Getting them off that surface and giving their legs a little bit of a break is really good."

The result has been a 24-3 campaign featuring College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin regular-season and tournament titles and a berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

No. 14-nationally ranked Wesleyan opens NCAA play at home at 7 p.m. Friday against Marietta College (24-4). At 5 p.m. Friday at Shirk Center, No. 7 Trine (23-3) faces No. 12 DePauw (25-2). The winners will battle for a sectional berth at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Things have gone well with 13 players, but that total is actually 11 following news Wednesday night that Raven Hughes is out with a torn ACL in her knee. Six games ago, IWU lost Sydney Shanks to a broken wrist. In the future, Smith hopes to have rosters of 17 to 20.

"Fifteen is really ideal," said Smith, whose 2012 national championship team had 15, which at that time was the fewest she'd had. "We want to give every kid an opportunity and as long as there is no trouble, we welcome that effort."

CCIW Player of the Year Rebekah Ehresman, who is battling the flu this week, is a believer in Smith's less-is-more strategy.

"We are definitely so much fresher at this point in time than compared to last year," said Ehresman, who also likes the fact starters have played fewer minutes this year thanks to many blowouts.

"I think it's been to our advantage. Also, I think we're getting a lot done in a short amount of time."

Fellow all-CCIW first-team star Molly McGraw also sees positives.

"It's been good for our bodies," she said. "We like to get in there and work hard for that short amount of time. Once we get our stuff done, we're out of there."

Ehresman believes a by-product of shorter practices has been greater intensity.

"Having shorter practices, I think it motivates everyone because if we can get everything done in an hour as opposed to two hours," she said, "we want to do that because we have studying and other stuff we have to get done, too."

Junior Nina Anderson endorses shorter practices.

"Our practices are definitely more efficient than they were last year, especially with lower numbers," she said. "I think it's really paid off. We do what we need the first time, get it done and go home.

"Because we get more reps, everyone gets more one-on-one time, especially with our new assistant coach Marla (Maupin-Cleveland)."

McGraw said, "She brings a lot of the technical stuff. She's very much a fundamental coach."

A smaller squad also has meant each player gets more attention from teammates.

"I think we're all able to get along so much better," Ehresman said. "I know it makes it easier on the coaches because you don't have 10 girls on the bench that you have to try to encourage.

"You can't play 15 or 20 girls. It made the camaraderie so much better. I've gotten to know everyone a lot more than what you can with 20 to 25 girls."

McGraw also rates team chemistry a beneficiary.

"On a personal level," she said, "it makes us closer."

Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @PG_sharer


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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