Conference preview: Men's, women's basketball gear up for NAC main stretch
Athletics - posted on 1/12/2009
After finishing up their respective non-conference seasons, the Lakeland men's and women's basketball teams begin the main stretch of Northern Athletics Conference play this week.
Let's take a look back on the non-conference season, and look ahead to league play for each team.
The men's basketball team will conclude its non-conference slate at home on Monday, Jan. 12, against Northland Baptist. In its other non-league games, Lakeland compiled a solid 5-2 mark, including three road wins, two of which were won in the final seconds.
On Nov. 22, freshman forward Jake Schwarz (Sheboygan) knocked in a pair of free throws with three seconds remaining to give the Muskies a 68-67 season-opening victory over Lake Forest (Ill.). Schwarz came up big again on Jan. 3, hitting a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to propel Lakeland to a 73-72 triumph at Finlandia (Mich.).
Entering the main portion of NAC play, the Muskies (7-4, 2-2 NAC) currently stand in third place in the North Division. Lakeland is 1-1 against opponents from both the North and South Divisions. Seven of the Muskies' 12 remaining conference games are at Moose & Dona Woltzen Gymnasium, where they are unbeaten.
Long-time rival Concordia, Wis. (4-1), currently stands in first place in the North Division along with Edgewood (4-1), which defeated the Muskies 86-66 on Jan. 7. Aurora sits atop the South Division with a 4-1 NAC record, followed by MSOE, Benedictine and Concordia Chicago, which are a game behind at 3-2.
Under the new divisional format, the Muskies will play each team from their own division twice, and each squad from the South once. Lakeland has already taken on division foes Edgewood and Maranatha Baptist, so they will see those teams each once more, and will square off against Concordia, Wis., Rockford and Marian twice each.
"I like having divisions, because missed class time is less and it gives us a set rotation as to how we're going to play games," Lakeland head coach Aaron Aanonsen said. "The last couple years, we've had some problems with uneven scheduling, where some of the top teams would obviously have a weaker schedule. So this just makes it a little more uniform."
The women's basketball team wrapped up its non-conference portion of play on Jan. 3 with a 55-52 triumph at Beloit. Senior Kasey Gussert, who finished with 22 points in the contest, knocked down the go-ahead jumper with seven seconds remaining to lead the Muskies to victory.
The Muskies finished 5-2 in the pre-conference season, including a 3-0 mark in games away from Woltzen Gymnasium.
Lakeland (10-3, 5-1), which has won seven of its last eight contests, sits in a tie for second place in the NAC North Division with Edgewood, which defeated the Muskies, 73-69, back on Dec. 22 in Madison. Both teams are 1 ½ games behind first-place Concordia, Wis. (7-0). Lakeland will try to close that gap this Tuesday against the Falcons in Mequon.
In the South Division, Aurora (5-2), Wisconsin Lutheran (3-1) and MSOE (4-3) sit within one game of each other. The Muskies get Aurora (Jan. 17) and WLC (Jan. 31) at home, and will head to Milwaukee to take on the Raiders on Jan. 24. Lakeland is 3-0 against the division so far.
Under the new divisional format, the Muskies will play each team from their own division twice, and each squad from the South once. Lakeland has already taken on North Division foes Rockford, Maranatha Baptist and Edgewood, so they will see those teams each once more, and will square off against Concordia, Wis., and Marian twice each.
Lakeland head coach Teri Johnson is also a big supporter of the new system.
"I like the divisions, because they bring a little bit of organization to the schedule," Johnson said. "The North Division is a competitive division. We have Concordia, Wis., and Edgewood, who took second in the NAC Tournament last year. Those are going to be two tough teams in our division."
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