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From the floor up: Lewis builds on small DSU women’s basketball team in first season as head coach

When a coach inherits a new team, they typically acquire the equivalent of a furnished apartment with a key appliance or two missing. When Dickinson State University hired Liz Lewis away from Miles Community College in Montana, she walked into an...

Liz Lewis enters her first year as Dickinson State women's basketball head coach. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
Liz Lewis enters her first year as Dickinson State women's basketball head coach. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
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When a coach inherits a new team, they typically acquire the equivalent of a furnished apartment with a key appliance or two missing.

When Dickinson State University hired Liz Lewis away from Miles Community College in Montana, she walked into an essentially empty apartment with only a couch and a toaster. With only three returning players on her new squad, Lewis had a lot of work ahead of her.

The Blue Hawks base consists of upperclassmen Samantha Morgan, Sydney Bentz and Paitton Herbst. Last season, Morgan and Bentz averaged 13.2 and 12.5 minutes per game, respectively, and Herbst averaged 22.7.

Lewis didn't even finish unpacking her office before sitting in front of her computer and recruiting the rest of a lineup. The Nevada native said starting with a nearly empty team is beneficial, though, allowing her to recruit players that best fit her system and philosophy. Lewis said recruiting has been difficult because it's so late in the year, but the task is nearly complete. She just needs a few more players to flush out a full roster.

"The biggest challenge," she said, "will be building the team not only with each other and their team chemistry, but also getting them to trust in what I believe."

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Even in her first position as a head coach at a four-year school, her beliefs remain the same.

"Every kid will leave my program not only a better athlete but also a better person," Lewis said.

She also said community service, team GPA and preseason conditioning are her other core values.

Lewis will have one familiar face with her, helping enforce this philosophy. Her assistant coach at MCC, Janie Rayback, accompanied her to Dickinson.

In Miles City, the two helped coach what Lewis called an underdog team. While they may have been smaller and had less funding than their conference opponents, Lewis said she and Rayback coached the Lady Pioneers to some of the best years the program has seen.

DSU's basketball team has also been on the rise, earning 23 wins in each of the last two seasons. Former coach Mark Graupe, who now coaches Minot State women's basketball spent four years pushing the Blue Hawks to better records. Lewis said she's hoping to continue the success he brought to DSU.

"I know how to work hard and do what it takes to find the best way to put my team in the most successful position," Lewis said. "So I believe my experience at Miles in those situations will really, really help me. And the thing is we also don't have the best training equipment and things like that, which DSU does have."

Lewis is confident she can begin building a solid, successful program here. Scott Gymnasium may be unfamiliar, and the team constructed of near strangers, but one thing remains consistent.

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"The rim is 10 feet. The free-throw line is 15 feet," she said. "It's all the same no matter what gym you're in."

Related Topics: BLUE HAWKS
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