Women's basketball: NIU looks to push the pace under first-year coach Lisa Carlsen

DeKALB – With how much conditioning the Northern Illinois women's basketball team is doing in the preseason, first-year head coach Lisa Carlsen joked that it looked like the Huskies hired her to be the new track coach.

Carlsen, who joined the Huskies after a successful stint at Lewis University, is bringing a faster tempo to the women's basketball program – looking to push the ball on offense with a get-it-and-go mentality.

"We wanted to be two things in the MAC," Carlsen said. "We wanted to be the best conditioned team and we wanted to be the most unselfish team."

Carlsen had a strong final three seasons with the Flyers, going a combined 58-15 – including a 31-3 campaign that earned her the WBCA Division II Coach of the Year.

The players have noticed the shift in the faster pace for the Huskies, who averaged 54.8 points per game and went 12-17 overall and 8-10 in conference play.

"Last year, we got a lot of shot clock violations and now we're shooting and there's still 15 seconds left on the shot clock," said senior guard Lacia Gorman, who played in 27 games last season. "We're definitely getting up and down the floor."

Carlsen said she doesn't necessarily believe the Huskies need to find the point guard after a rebound. Instead, she wants them to push the ball up the floor – whether that's the guards, wings or even the posts. It's a welcome mentality for 6-foot senior forward Natecia Augusta.

"I've been living for that moment – I've been dying to do that, so I'm excited about it," Augusta said.

Augusta is coming back after missing the entire 2014-15 season with a leg injury she suffered in the preseason. She had a breakout season offensively as a junior, averaging 10.4 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game and she said she's currently about "80 percent" – with the Huskies first exhibition game coming at home against St. Francis on Nov. 7.

While Augusta has dealt with injuries throughout her career, Carlsen said the senior from Peoria Limestone can be a difference maker inside if she can stay healthy.

"She's somebody, when healthy, who can dominate in the bottom half of the lane," Carlsen said.

Augusta was just one of several Huskies to deal with injuries last year, in which their rotation dwindled because of the number of players that were banged up during the season. However, with most players back to full strength, there's an optimism for the Huskies heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

"You talked about how hard they were hit with injuries and that's hard, I don't care if you're preseason No. 1 in the country or a team that's trying to rebuild, nobody wants to go through a season that has significant injuries, season-ending injuries to players," Carlsen said. "I think there's a lot of optimism."

A major bright spot for the Huskies last season was the play of 5-foot-10 guard Ally Lehman, who was forced into the point guard position because of injuries. She thrived in the role, averaging 9.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and nearly four assists per game. She's the team's leading returner in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes.

"I think the beauty of Ally is her versatility allows us to do a lot of things," Carlsen said. "I think ideally, we'd like to keep Ally at the 2 or 3, but she definitely has the ability and skill-set to play (point guard). I'm somebody who likes to put the five best players on the floor – whether that means we're big, we're small, we'll make it work."