Centre Basketball: Paige Baechele trying to become a leader for Centre women
Paige Baechle, left, of Centre College battles Sewanee's Kayla Sewell for a rebound during the second half of Centre's 81-49 victory Saturday. The Colonels outrebounded the Tigers 38-26. (Mike Marsee / December 6, 2012)
Given more playing time and more responsibility, Baechle is doing plenty of both for the reconfigured Centre College women.
But she said she feels her most important job is helping her team jell and find its identity.
“I realized that I have a larger role, and I have to be more of a leader and show the team that we have to play together and keep us all playing for each other,” Baechle said.
Learning to play together is critical for a team that lost eight seniors to graduation after last season and returns only one starter this season.
Baechle is one of the new Colonels’ new starters, though she got plenty of experience on a last year’s team, which won a conference championship and two NCAA tournament games.
But she is playing much more this year, and she’s making the most of her opportunity. Entering Centre’s first Southern Athletic Association game Saturday at Sewanee, Baechle leads the Colonels (1-5) in points (14.8) and rebounds (8.0) per game.
She said he has worked to prepare for the chance that she hoped would come her way this season, and she wants to make the most of it.
“I love playing, I love being on the court every time I am,” she said. “I’ve been working hard, and it’s finally paying off. I’m getting the chance to play with my team and give them all I have.”
And she’s playing a lot. While Centre coach Wendie Austin-Robinson has been mixing and matching new lineups, Baechle has been a part of almost all of them. The 5-10 junior forward is averaging 31.0 minutes, better than 5 minutes more per game than anyone else on the team.
“We’ve tried a lot of different combinations, and some work better than others, but we’re learning to play with each other and what works best for us,” Baechle said. “It’s a good process. We’re figuring it out slowly but surely.”
Baechle saw plenty of action last year for a Centre team that set school records for wins and winning percentage and reached the round of 16 in the NCAA. She averaged 20.1 minutes and was third on the team in scoring (8.9 points) and fourth in rebounds (5.4), leading the team in scoring in three games and in rebounds in eight games, and she was the Colonels’ top returning player in both categories.
She said she learned a great deal while playing behind last season’s talented group of seniors.
“I learned a lot. I learned to be tough and how to be a great teammate, and just to be a huge leader,” Baechle said. “I look up to them so much still. They all work so hard at everything they do, especially on the court, which is one thing I really try to do.”
One area in which Baechle said she has always tried to work hard is on defense. She is Centre’s steals leader with 12, and she had 40 steals in 30 games last year.
“I’ve always loved defense. I like the excitement of getting a steal or when our team gets a stop,” she said. “I try and play defense as well as I can, shut down my girl as well as giving help to my teammates. Rotation is one of our key aspects because we’re all over the place, running, trying to get in the passing lanes.”
She said defense is an area in which the Colonels can be better this season than last.
“We’re stronger in defense. We can score on the offensive end, but defense is our key. We want to get plays off defense, that’s a big key,” she said.
Baechle, a behavioral neuroscience major who plans to become a physician’s assistant, came to Centre in 2010 from Gallatin, Tenn., where she was an all-state player for a high school team that reached the state semifinals in her senior year.
“I love the game, but I also wanted a good academic school ... so I figured it was the best of both worlds,” she said. “At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to play, but the more I looked into it, the more I liked it. I fell in love with the school and with the girls. The team was just awesome.”
Ironically, Baechle said she first learned of Centre from her soccer coach. She played midfield for Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., but she said she was always much better at basketball than soccer.
“Soccer was fun, but basketball was always my best sport,” she said.