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It will be hard enough for the 2008-09
It's even harder to do after losing five contributing seniors and the head coach.
First-year head coach Aaron Aanonsen looks to continue the program's success this season despite losing four starters, including four-time all-conference guard Kris Saiberlich, who remains with the program as an assistant coach. Last season's team finished 17-11 overall with a 10-8 mark in conference contests.
"With losing five seniors, we lose roughly 70 percent of every statistical category," Aanonsen said. "However, what we have lost in experience, we have gained in enthusiasm, and I am excited about the future of Muskie basketball."
Aanonsen, who has been the program's top assistant the past two seasons, will look to the team's lone senior, forward Peter Worth, and junior guard Khendal Andrews to take leadership responsibilities on the court this year. Considering the team has 10 freshmen, guidance from the upperclassmen will be important to the Muskies' success.
"It's going to be very important for Pete and Khendal to step up and be leaders of this team, because they've had some great people to feed off of the last two years," Aanonsen said. "They've been the recipients of a couple great leaders. If there's one thing that I understand, it's that when times get tough, great leaders emerge."
The play of Worth, a
"Offensively, he's a lot more aggressive, and we're trying to focus more on playing through him," Aanonsen said. "We'll play the inside-out game with him because he's great at catching it inside or outside, and creating shot opportunities for his teammates. He understands how to play the game, and we're going to try and use that to our advantage."
Andrews is a 5-9 combo guard who shot just over 39 percent from 3-point range and 96 percent from the free throw line last season, averaging 5.8 points in 28 games played. The
"Khendal's a great shooter," Aanonsen said. "We will need to keep him involved in our offense, finding opportunities for him to come off screens and make plays. I feel that teams won't be able to double in the post because you have dead-eye shooters like Khendal on the perimeter."
Junior forward/center Anthony Cobb also returns from last season's rotation. The
"He's going to block shots, take charges, get rebounds, and he'll probably be looked on to guard the opposite team's best post player this year," Aanonsen said. "He's also improved his ability to finish around the basket, and is more confident playing with his back to the basket."
Sophomore Sam Schroeder, a 6-2 guard who appeared in just 12 games last season, also projects to be in Aanonsen's rotation. Schroeder, a Shawano native, is a good shooter who has improved defensively during the preseason.
"With Sam, it's going to be his confidence," Aanonsen said. "If he plays confidently, he's going to be a really good player. We just have to make sure we're giving him the ball on the offensive end in the right situations where he can succeed."
Sophomore forwards Jay Freerking (6-10, Mauston) and Trevor McKown (6-7,
Junior guard Phil Sontag (6-0,
Several freshmen will be relied upon to add depth and support to the returning cast.
One player who has been particularly impressive to the coaching staff is point guard Josh Regal. The 5-10 Suring native is the brother of Aaron Regal,
"He was a phenomenal player in high school, and has really stepped it up coming to the college game," Aanonsen said. "His ability to see the floor is much better than any other point guard we've had in our program since I've been here."
Jake Schwarz, a 6-5 forward from
"Jake's a super-talented kid," Aanonsen said. "He's going to have to adjust to the college game, but once he does, he will be a deadly inside-out scoring threat."
A pair of freshmen guards, Eric Vandivier (
Freshmen forwards Germell Heard (6-5,
Freshmen Andrew Gussert (5-10, G,
"Like any other team, we've had great days, average days, and bad days in practice so far," Aanonsen said. "It's going to be important for this young team to minimize their off-days and come together, battle through, grind it out, and focus on getting better each day, which is our theme for the season."
For the first time in league history, the NAC has been divided into two divisions, the North and the South. The Muskies will play in the North Division, along with Concordia
Players and coaches around the league are excited about the new scheduling.
"I like having divisions, because our guys will miss less class time and it gives us a set rotation in our schedule," Aanonsen said. "The last couple years, we've had some problems with uneven scheduling, where some of the top teams would have a weaker schedule. So this just makes it more uniform for everyone."