Wisconsin Lutheran women's basketball season preview
MILWAUKEE - One year removed from its third NCAA Tournament appearance in school history and first tournament triumph, the 2011-2012 Wisconsin Lutheran College women's basketball team has its sights set high again. The main goal for the Warriors this season will be winning their fourth consecutive Northern Athletics Conference division championship, according to eighth-year head coach Klay Knueppel.
The Warriors, who finished 26-4 overall and 16-2 in the NAC North Division a season ago, will again be in the North, a division which they won last season after winning a pair of South Division crowns. However, Knueppel knows no victory will come easy for his team this season.
"We need to be ready to play every game," says Knueppel. "Every team in the conference is going to play us hard and give us a tough game and we need to be ready for the challenge."
The Warriors expect to use last year's experience of winning in the NCAA Tournament to help them grow and stay hungry this season. "We want to duplicate last year and going to the NCAA Tournament and winning was big," Knueppel says. "We know what we need to do to continue that success."
Knueppel also knows that his team will need to continue executing in some key areas again this season if they want to contend for another title. "We need to rebound well, make our free throws, and take care of the ball," Knueppel says. "We did those things last year and we need to continue improving in those areas."
Part of the reason for the high optimism in 2011-2012 is the return of three staring junior guards, who should be ready to lead the Warriors to more success this upcoming season. Those three returnees in the backcourt are Krissy Day (West Allis, Wis./Wisconsin Lutheran), Shavon Dillon (Milwaukee, Wis./Hope School) and Alyssa Allister (Lake Mills, Wis./Lakeside Lutheran).
"Having three guards who have the experience they have and are now juniors is big," says Knueppel. "They know what's expected from them and you can already see a difference in how they approach things."
Both Dillon and Day started all 30 games last season, while Allister made 28 starts for the forest green and white. Dillon averaged 10.5 points per game, while dishing out a team-high 102 assists for the Warriors. Allister and Day scored 5.4 and 5.3 points per game, respectively, but Knueppel expects his starting guards to increase their production this season.
"With losing some scoring this season, I am hoping our guards can produce a little more for us and I think they will be able to do that," says Knueppel.
Some key reserves from the backcourt also return, including last year's All-NAC Freshman Team selection, Rachel Hoft (Germantown, Wis./Germantown). Sophomore Melissa Klemm (Germantown, Wis./Germantown) and junior Brittanny Bahr (Caledonia, Wis./Shoreland Lutheran) are other returners who should contribute in the backcourt this season. Bahr and Hoft averaged 6.2 and 6.1 points per game off the bench last season, while Klemm appeared in 17 games.
"A key to our backcourt comes from our reserve players," says Knueppel. "They really challenge our starters in practice and I'm really looking forward to seeing what they will do on the court this season."
Knueppel also says that at times this season he may implement a four-guard lineup with the aforementioned players, as well as sophomores Melanie Laete (Spokane, Wash./Evergreen Lutheran) and Jordan Fischer (Waukesha, Wis./Wisconsin Lutheran).
"We are very strong at the guard position and if we have to play four guards at times then that is something we are going to do," says Knueppel.
A trio of freshmen could also contribute in the backcourt this season in Katelyn Kuehl (Fond du Lac, Wis./Winnebago Lutheran), Christel Frey (South Milwaukee, Wis./Wisconsin Lutheran) and Bethany Unkefer (Phoenix, Ariz./Arizona Lutheran).
"Our freshmen have a lot of talent and the key for them getting on the court will be in how they develop," Knueppel says. "There is no doubt though that they have a lot of potential."
For the second straight season, the Warriors lose their top post presence to graduation as this season they will need to replace the reigning NAC Player of the Year, Erika Laete. Laete led Wisconsin Lutheran with 18.3 points per game, while also pulling down a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game last season.
The player expected the take the lead in the frontcourt this season will be senior Rachel Johnson (Milwaukee, Wis./Wisconsin Lutheran), who was second on the team in scoring (13.0 points per game) and rebounding (8.3 rebounds per game) while starting all 30 games last year for WLC. She was named to the All-NAC Second Team for her efforts.
"Rachel will be a big factor in our success this season," says Knueppel. "She, like Erika last season, has that senior mentality of wanting to win and should drive our other players on the team to win as well."
Another senior who should contribute in the frontcourt this season is Jenna Neuberger (Muskego, Wis./Wisconsin Lutheran). Neuberger appeared in all 30 games last season, while averaging 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest.
"Jenna is a player who should really help us out in the post," Knueppel says. "She is another senior who we really expect to contribute this season."
After Johnson and Neuberger, the Warriors don't feature much experience in the frontcourt, but Knueppel still sees much potential in players that could benefit his team in 2011-2012. Senior Alli Page (Oconomowoc, Wis./Luther Preparatory), who is playing her first year of basketball at WLC, as well as junior transfer Carrie Thoma (Richfield, Wis./Hartford Union) and freshman Kristen Schulz (Safford, Ariz./Arizona Lutheran) are players who could contribute this season.
"Getting those players ready to play will be our biggest challenge," says Knueppel. "None have much experience with our program but they do have skills and abilities to help us out this season."
The Warriors begin their quest for another NAC Championship and return to the NCAA Tournament when they host the Dunn's Sporting Goods Tip-Off Tournament November 18-19 at the Recreation Complex. WLC hosts Bethel University (Minn.) in its first game Friday, November 18 at 7 p.m. Wisconsin Lutheran opens its 18-game conference slate November 26 at Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wis.