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Senior Kelsey Criner leading women’s basketball on both ends of the floor

Senior Kelsey Criner leading women’s basketball on both ends of the floor

Junior guard Kelsey Criner (3) drives the basket for a layup against Southern Mississippi University. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Senior Kelsey Criner leading women’s basketball on both ends of the floor
November 17
10:14 2016

Nearly two years ago, the Mean Green basketball program had just wrapped up one of its worst seasons ever. At 5-24, North Texas missed the Conference USA tournament and, days later, head coach Mike Petersen was relieved of his coaching duties.

But senior guard Kelsey Criner was not on that team.

Instead, she was wrapping up her career at New Mexico Junior College. After her sophomore campaign there, she found North Texas, a school with then-new head coach Jalie Mitchell, looking to rebuild.

“[NMJC] was like a start,” Criner said. “Another start after high school.”

The two instantly were compatible on the court, as Mitchell needed a defense-first point guard to set the tone on the most important end of the floor. With Criner coming off a season at New Mexico Junior College where she racked up 99 steals, she was just what Mitchell was looking for.

Criner’s defensive prowess quickly translated into success with the Mean Green, and last year she averaged more than 2.5 steals per game and made the five-player all-defense team.

“I think she has great instincts and anticipation,” Mitchell said “She’s quick with quick hands and that gives her a leg up on reading what may happen next. She’s a hungry defender.”

In short, defense matters to Criner, which sets the table for her to be a leader on the team in her final collegiate season.

Her hounding of opposing point guards not only generates stops and steals, but puts the rest of her teammates on notice.

“I definitely have to keep my defense up,” Criner said. “I love playing defense, and I want my teammates to feel the same way. [I want to] set the tone and they’ll follow me, and we’ll get a lot of stops.”

Last season, Criner led more by example. This year, however, Mitchell has stressed for her vocal presence to match her intensity in both practices and games.

She accepted the challenge and has already been able to accomplish the goal her coach set.

“What stands out most to me is her leadership,” Mitchell said. “She’s talking more [than last year] and she knows more. And she uses that knowledge to help her teammates.”

But defense is not Criner’s only job.

As the point guard, Criner is the de-facto floor general for North Texas. Every time the opposition scores or the Mean Green corral a rebound, Criner gets the outlet pass and starts to set up the offense. She led the team in assists, points and three-point percentage last year, often dragging the offense through rough patches.

Fortunately for Criner, she has more help this season than ever before. With the new transfers and a year of DI play under her belt, Criner is hoping to improve on her numbers and win even more games before her time in Denton is over.

She will also have two senior backcourt partners to help her in Candice Adams and Terra Ellison.

And they know just how lethal Criner can be.

“Kelsey takes charge of the whole team and she’s really a leader, and we all see her as one,” Ellison said. “On the offensive end, she helps get us organized [because] she’s vocal and she brings energy.”

Even though North Texas’ array of weapons has expanded, Criner will still remain the team’s primary ball-handler and creator.

“I feel like I have the same role that I did last year,” Criner said. “[This year] there are more people to create for me as well as me creating for them.”

Criner will need to be an extension of her coach on the court throughout the season. She will be tasked with following Mitchell’s game plan, but she will also have her own freedoms on the offense in her senior season.

Mitchell loves the pace, especially getting out and running in transition, but she needs a point guard able to handle the ball and make timely decisions for the team.

Criner can do that, too.

“It’s something that we constantly talk about,” Mitchell said. “Of course we want to play fast, but know when to slow it down, that’s your job as a point guard. I thought she did a solid job of that and it’ll just improve from here.”

In response to being asked what her ultimate goal was, Criner said she wants this team to win the C-USA championship.  With her at the helm of both the offense and the defense, that lofty target is a real possibility as the season gets underway.

In her second year at North Texas, she’s developed on and off of the court quicker than her hands when poking the ball loose for one of her patented steals.

Criner will be the engine of this team, and she knows what will be asked of her day-in and day-out.

“[On this team] I’m the energy provider and the level headed one,” she said with a light hearted grin. “I keep everybody together and don’t let anyone get out of control.”

Featured Image: Senior guard Kelsey Criner (3) drives the basket for a layup against Southern Mississippi University last season. Colin Mitchell 

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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