Marissa Janning knows the challenges for the Creighton women’s basketball team increase with the move to the new Big East.
So, too, does the Bluejays’ resolve.
“These teams have bigger, quicker guards, bigger posts,’’ Janning said. “This is going to be a better conference than what it has been in the past.
“We don’t have the most athletic team but to go to the tournament last year and compete with Tennessee, that just gives us more confidence. We’re girls that do things right and execute things correctly. We don’t need that natural athletic ability to know that we can go far.’’
Creighton made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament in Janning’s freshman season, defeating Syracuse in the opening round before a loss to Tennessee on the Volunteers’ home court ended the 25-8 season.
Janning emerged as one of Creighton’s go-to players, earning freshman All-America honors to go along with being selected first-team All-Missouri Valley and the conference’s freshman of the year.
Coach Jim Flanery is counting on the 5-foot-8 point guard from Watertown, Minn., to make another big step this season for a team that returns all but one starter. The Bluejays also lost a key contributor in senior Carli Tritz, who decided to give up basketball because of an arthritic condition in her knee.
Tritz was Creighton’s best passer, and her absence means Janning will have to expand her playmaking skills. As a freshman, she recorded 80 assists against 74 turnovers.
“Her assists-to-turnovers ratio last year was decent for a freshman,’’ Flanery said. “It was a little better than 1, which isn’t great but you’ll take that for a freshman. But it needs to be 1½-to-1 this year.
“We’ve talked to her about one-handed passes and leaving her feet to pass the ball. We want her to be a playmaker and she’ll turn the ball over some because we’ll expect her to make a lot of positive plays. But, as her dad says, she needs to lose some of those high school passes that she likes to throw.’’
Janning finished last season averaging a team-high 12.6 points. Seventy-four of her 143 field goals came from 3-point range, where Janning shot 38.9 percent.
“When she’s making perimeter shots, she’s hard to guard,’’ Flanery said. “She’s good enough going to the basket that you have to (play) off of her to try to take that away.’’
Janning scored 3,587 points in her high school varsity career that began as a seventh grader. She was named Minnesota’s Miss Basketball as a senior in 2012 and set a state record by making 458 career 3-point baskets.
Part of her initial adjustment to the collegiate level was a drastic change in roles.
“Coming from my high school team was a huge change because now I wasn’t a huge factor on the team,’’ she said. “I was just kind of there playing. Everyone else was just as good.
“At first it was an adjustment because I was used to getting the ball on every possession. At first, I wasn’t getting touches but I liked it because I got to help in other ways, especially on defense. Then I got into the mix on offense, and it turned into a really good fit.’’
Janning struggled in Creighton’s first four games — she missed 22 of her first 25 shots — before back-to-back 19-point games got her on track. She wound up scoring 10 points or more in 23 of 33 games, including a career-high 29 points in a February win over Drake.
While expecting Janning to be even better on offense this season, Flanery believes Janning has huge upside on the defensive end. Her 41 steals ranked second on the team behind Tritz’s 52.
“She had a decent freshman year defensively, but we’ve challenged her to get up and pressure even more,’’ Flanery said. “We feel like she could be a terrific defensive player. She’s got good feet, she’s our quickest kid and she doesn’t fatigue.
“You wouldn’t know it by looking at her but she’s also bigger and stronger than she was a year ago. She’s added some muscle, and that’s going to help her.’’
Janning’s own goals for the coming season are tied up in one simple quest.
“I really haven’t set any personal goals,’’ Janning said. “I just want to get back to the tournament because I know that this is a team that really can go far.’’