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SMC Basketball: Kessler relies on the line

Fowler, Ken | Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Free throws are the ones she knows she can make and the ones she practices most.

For Alison Kessler, it’s that simple.

“It’s definitely mental,” Kessler said. “Once you’ve gotten used to [making free-throw shots] in practice … there are no nerves in the game. You just shoot.”

Kessler will enter Wednesday night’s game at Calvin College ranked ninth in the nation for Division-III free-throw accuracy.

Actually, her percentage has dropped 1.5 points in the past week.

In a rare spat, the well-composed freshman missed free throws in consecutive games last week after connecting on 19 in a row. She had climbed to No. 2 in the nation after hitting all eight of her attempts in Saint Mary’s Jan. 19 win over Kalamazoo, but she has since “stumbled” – missing two of her last 10. Despite the mild dip, Kessler is connecting on 88.3 percent of her attempts from the stripe.

Throughout the season, she has steadily increased her attempts from the line.

After beginning the season on the bench, Kessler broke out against Manchester Nov. 23, scoring 13 points and hitting all nine of her free-throw attempts in the second half.

Her 12-point performance against Anderson Dec. 9 furthered her development, and she made her first collegiate start against Hope Jan. 8.

Kessler made that start and has since replaced injured senior guard Katie Boyce in the Belles starting lineup.

Making the most of her increased court time, Kessler has played aggressively, driving to the hoop more and drawing 42 foul shots – and making 36 – in those six games. For the year, Kessler has made 68 of 77 attempts.

She gives credit to coach Suzanne Bellina’s practices for her impressive results. Kessler said she has been so consistent because “we shoot 10 before every practice and record the makes. Then, after each intensive drill, we shoot more free throws. It gets us game ready … for when we’re tired [late in a game].”

However, it is not just from the line where she is helping the Belles to their best season in recent memory. Kessler is second on the team – and 12th in the MIAA – in steals. What’s more, the 5-foot-7 guard leads the Belles in offensive rebounds (2.3 per game) and ranks ninth in the conference.

Kessler played high-school ball at New Prairie High School in LaPorte, where she hit just under 80 percent of her free throws and played everything from point guard to power forward.

Among all freshmen, she ranks fourth in scoring in the league at just under nine points per game.

For free-throw inspiration, she looks to junior Tennessee guard and Syracuse, Ind. native Shanna Zolman.

“I look up to her especially because she’s from Indiana and is doing so well,” Kessler said.

However, the student may have passed the teacher – Zolman is shooting 86.8 percent from the foul line this year – a point and a half behind Kessler.

The Division-III record for career free-throw percentage is 85.3 (minimum of 250 made) by Megan Woodruff of Wilmington (Ohio).

However, Kessler will not worry about that any time soon.

“I’m not going to think about it night-to-night – I’m just going to go shot-by-shot,” she said.