MIDDLEBURY — Rick Albro must like the Northern Lakes Conference.
The Davenport University women’s basketball coach picked up his second commitment from an NLC player this year, as Northridge junior Jaci Walker announced her decision to play for the Panthers last week. Walker joins Concord junior Kendal Swartout in the Davenport class of 2021. Swartout announced her commitment in April.
“We’re on the same AAU team, so it’s been kind of nice,” said Walker of her relationship with Swartout. “We’ve kind of grown-up together. Our parents are friends, so it’s kind of weird how this all happened.”
Davenport is a NCAA Division-II school located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They play in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Walker had a strong junior campaign for the Raiders, averaging 12.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals a game. It was her first full season as a varsity player.
“My consistency got a lot better and I got stronger,” said Walker of where she improved the most last year. “My leadership grew for sure. I wasn’t used to the varsity level and being mature on the court, and I think I really matured overall.”
Northridge coach Doug Springer wasn’t short on praise for Walker, especially about her shooting abilities.
“She is probably the best mid-range shooter I’ve ever coached,” Springer said. “She is really, really good from about 15-to-17 feet.”
For Springer, it’s now about having Walker use her jump shot to set up the rest of her offense.
“Everybody knows she’s a scorer and shooter, so she’s going to have to learn how to get to the basket because she’s a very good free-throw shooter,” Springer said.
It was a different recruiting process for Walker, as she wasn’t able to officially visit any college campuses due to the coronavirus pandemic. AAU leagues have also been postponed or canceled, hurting the recruiting process as well.
With no summer games happening, Springer put together a highlight tape of Walker and talked with her about which schools she’d like to go to, regardless of sports being involved. Walker said Davenport was a school she was interested in, so Springer contacted Albro.
Once Albro saw the tape of Walker, he was excited. He eventually offered Walker a scholarship, and after making an unofficial visit to the campus with just her family, Walker announced her commitment.
“I really, really loved coach Albro and how he tried to make a relationship with me right away,” Walker said. “We could never meet because of the NCAA rules, but we would FaceTime. I just really liked the whole feel of it.”
Springer said the recruiting process was a throwback for him in a lot of ways.
“This is what it was like when I first started coaching,” Springer said. “When I first started coaching, all of the college recruiting went through the high school coach, and then if they had a chance, they would watch them in the summer at AAU. Now, because it’s so much easier and there are so many events, recruiting has gone all the way through AAU.”
Walker now gets to focus on her senior season with Northridge. Last year, the Raiders went through some growing pains, finishing 10-15 after 10-straight winning seasons. Both Walker and her teammates played better as the year went on, though, providing optimism for Northridge entering the 2020-21 season.
“We were young and not matured at the varsity level because we all played JV the year before,” said Walker of last season. “I’m really excited for next year. I think if we buy into the defensive end and buy into what the coaches are telling us, we can be really good.”