Heading into the season, getting production from the freshman class was one of the keys for the Valparaiso women’s basketball team to have success.

One player in particular, freshman Grace Hales, has stepped up her game as of late and has been a key reason the Crusaders have started to turn it around.

“She is starting to shoot the three when it’s there and make the right reads on defense,” coach Tracey Dorow said. “She’s getting to the rim well. We didn’t see her ability to get to the rim and paint originally. She started to expand that part of her game this summer.”

Scoring is something the Crusaders coaching staff expected to get from Hales the second she was recruited to play here. The freshman has had eight or more points in four of the final five regular season games, which included three Crusader wins.

“For her, we’ve been on her case a lot about being more consistent,” Dorow said. “She is starting to show flashes. I’m really proud of her as far as what she is doing as a scorer.”

Hales has spent this season as a primary scorer off the bench, averaging nearly 17 minutes a game. Seeing the minutes she has seen off the bench this season came as a bit of a surprise.

“I definitely did not expect that,” Hales said. “I kind of thought I was going to just be coming in at the end if they needed a quick shot. Getting thrown into the fire was not what I was expecting right away and it was hard, but I enjoyed it.”

The opportunity she was given enabled Hales to adjust to the college game much quicker.

“We practice a lot and differing from high school, this is such a long season,” she said. “I think all the different practice times and being in the gym has been a perfect time to work on being more physical and adjusting to the pace.”

Coming off the bench is something that some players struggle with. For Hales, this has been something she has embraced.

“I really like my role,” she said. “I like it because I get to see how the flow of the game is going and then come in and take action. I’m not expected to be an all-star or play the most minutes, but they want me to come in and take the shots that are open and bring energy. That’s the role they wanted for me was to be able to come off the bench and not have a slow start.”

One other piece of the game Hales has been challenged with was adjusting to scouting many players on the opposing teams that they are playing against, which wasn’t something she had dealt with in the past.

“In high school in most cases, teams had one good player so we would talk about what they did,” Hales said. “Coming here and watching film before practice, and having to know six or even 10 players and what they do was crazy for me. I’m used to it now though.”

As Hales continues to progress and mature in her freshman campaign, Dorow is starting to see parts of what she thinks can turn into an all-time great.

“Throughout the recruiting process we talked with her about the possibility of becoming one of it not the best 3-point shooter in school history,” she said. “That’s our goal for her and if she works hard and continues to the things that she’s supposed to be doing, it’s possible.”

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