Every great team has an arsenal of secret weapons. For the No. 20 ranked Goshen College women’s basketball team one such weapon comes in the form of a men’s practice squad.This practice squad consists of nine Goshen College men. The team includes Andrew Snyder, Jesse Loewen, Danny Lam, Ike Lehman, Dean Nafziger, Nate Nussbaum, Dan Smucker, Ethan Gingerich, and Caleb Beachy. Each of these guys has previous basketball experience, and some are even current athletes at GC.
The first ever practice squad was created during the 2013-2014 season. Head women’s basketball coach Stephanie Miller put an advertisement in the Campus Communicator for open tryouts, and the turnout was greater than expected. “The goal of the tryout was to find guys that had a desire to play basketball and use it in a way to compete and stay in shape; find guys that would care about the girls on the team in terms of wanting to push them and play for the team; and a group that understood the X’s and O’s of the game to be able to quickly put up the opponents sets we wanted them to run,” said Miller.
Every practice on the day before a women’s game, the guys meet with assistant coach Vinnie Granato to learn plays that the opponent will run. Once they have a grasp on the opponent’s playbook, they take to the court against the varsity women.
“They might not be as good as our opponent with the specific timing of certain plays, but they do everything else as well, if not better, than the opponent,” said Granato. “They are more athletic and dynamic than what we will see on game day and that’s huge for getting us ready. If we can compete with these guys then we can compete against our opponent,” he said.
It’s not just the coaches that see the benefit in playing the guys. Liz Tecca, a senior and leader on the team, expressed her gratitude for the guys, saying, “having the privilege of playing against our practice squad is so beneficial and is hands down the reason we have been so prepared for our opponents. They push us every day, but it’s a really fun group of guys and we all enjoy having them around.”
Dean Nafziger, a senior, is new to the practice squad this year and enjoys the experience of practicing with the team. “They are definitely a fun team to be around. They have a really strong team chemistry and have fun at practice, while working extremely hard at the same time,” he said.
Caleb Beachy, a fellow senior, added, “The coaches and team are all about getting better and pushing each other. I’m very grateful that the team allowed me to play with them and wish them the best of luck the remainder of the season.”
Miller summed up the practice squad with thanks and appreciation, saying, “The coaches and players are so incredibly grateful for these young men and what they have done to contribute to our success. They continuously show up and dedicate their time and energy to compete hard and prepare my athletes for what they will see in competition. These guys have been a blessing, and without them, we most certainly would not have been able to improve the way we have over the past two years.”