The toughest stretch of the schedule for the UMD women’s basketball team might come right off the bat. The Bulldogs will open their season against some stiff competition this weekend at a tournament in San Antonio.
“We’re opening up against some amazing Division II talent and I think that’ll be a real test to our squad,” said fifth-year head coach Annette Wiles.
UMD plays Central Oklahoma and St. Mary’s (Texas) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, to open the season. Their home opener will come as a part of a men’s and women’s doubleheader against Michigan Tech on Saturday, Nov. 17.
The team enjoyed a successful 2011-12 campaign, finishing with an overall record of 18-10 and a 15-7 finish in the NSIC, good for fourth in the conference. The Bulldogs earned a NCAA Division II Tournament berth, but dropped their first game to Metro State.
The early departure from the playoffs hasn’t left the minds of players and coaches.
“We’ve made it to the national tournament two out of the three years I’ve played, but we’ve never won a game in the national tournament,” said senior co-captain Courtney Doucette. “So that would be a good way for me as a senior to go out, just get that win in the national tournament. That’d be awesome.”
That’s a common goal for players and coaches: Get the team’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2005.
“We’d like to go to the national tournament and then of course we’d like to advance one game past,” Wiles said. “We’d like to get a first win in the national tournament under our belt.”
Doucette and junior power forward Katrina Newman are in position to be the team’s top scorers this season. Doucette averaged 12.8 points per game last season while Newman averaged 14.4.
The Bulldogs have several other mainstays in the lineup, including senior co-captain Kaiya Sygulla and sophomore Alyssa Kerkhoff at point guard, junior Josephine Salmon at shooting guard, and sophomore Jessica Newman and junior Megan Lueck at small forward.
But if the Bulldogs are going to find success this season, they are also going to have to rely on some young players. Nine of the team’s 16 listed players are either freshmen or sophomores.
There are some positions to be filled on the squad, notably at center where the Bulldogs will need to replace Emma Van Winkle, a standout player who graduated last year. Junior Hannah Rutten and freshman Abbie Whitney could see time in the center position.
“We feel like the nucleus of our squad is kind of our sophomores and our juniors,” Wiles said. “When we were in the national tournament last year we kept looking out on the court and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be pretty good maybe for a couple years because we’re going to have this returning group for at least two more seasons.’”
The adjustment for the younger players has been smooth sailing, by all accounts, thus far.
“Our preseason went well, all the girls are very competitive and that’s always good to see in our team,” said Katrina Newman, a past NSIC Freshman of the Year award winner. “I’m just excited for all of us to be on one team and start playing.”
BY TOM OLSEN firstname.lastname@example.org