NCAA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Mustangs seek improvement with veteran team

MARSHALL – Not much went right for the Southwest Minnesota State women’s basketball team a year ago.

The Mustangs were 4-25 overall and 2-20 against the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference during the 2012-13 campaign.

Add in a few injuries, including one to starting shooting guard Bree Holleman who missed SMSU’s last nine games, and the Mustangs didn’t fare too well on the court.

This season, Mustangs head coach Allison Kruger has new expectations for SMSU, which returns 12 players who saw playing time last year.

“Our expectations are to improve overall,” said Kruger, who enters her fourth year leading the SMSU program. “Obviously, we need to win more games, but I don’t want us to focus strictly on that. I want us to focus on getting better as a team.”

Kruger is happy to have so many returning players back. She said the players know of her expectations and have been able to advance their skills at a much faster pace this season.

“We are a veteran team this year and, I believe, we are ahead of where we were last year at this point,” Kruger said. “I think our schedule is laid out a little better with our non-conference games, which will give us great opportunities to be successful early-on this season and for us to build some confidence.”

The Mustangs built a lot of confidence during a 101-43 thrashing of Crown College in SMSU’s season-opener on Monday at the R/A Facility. The 101 points were the most scored in a game by the Mustangs since 2009.

Kruger is expecting the SMSU seniors to take a step forward on the court and take on leadership roles.

“We have a great group of six seniors (Bree Holleman, Jessie Watts, Rebekah Rolling, Ellen Degler, Hannah Beeler, Alison Nagel) that give us a veteran team and they have bought into what we’re trying to do. This is there last opportunity to lay it all out on the court,” Kruger said. “They have done a great job of setting the tone in practice and have been great leaders.”

Holleman, who missed the last nine games of the 2012-13 season with an injury, looks to return to form at point guard and at shooting guard, when sophomore guard Annessa Rosch comes off the bench to run the point.

The sharp-shooting Holleman managed to shoot 35 percent (71 of 202) last year from the field, but more than half of her attempts came from 3-point range, where she drained 30 percent (34 of 112) of her shots. She was the Mustangs second-leading scorer, averaging 10.6 points.

“Having Bree run the point and be our shooting guard utilizes her skills in a more effective way for us,” Kruger said.

Nagel, who is a power forward, is back after averaging 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds – both were SMSU-highs a year ago.

“We look for her to improve her defensive skills and have a better year, offensively,” Kruger said. “She was new to our team last season and she did a great job of scoring for us, but we need her to be a better all-around player by being more aggressive on both ends of the floor. Alison has done that in practice this year.”

Nagel was the Mustangs’ top scorer with 28 points against Crown on Monday.

Beeler, who will is a small forward, is in her fourth year and steps into a starting role after making 26 starts the last two seasons. She returns after averaging 4.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 27 games a year ago.

Sophomore Mikayla Saathoff, who led the Mustangs with 91 assists last season, has switched to shooting guard when Holleman is running the point.

“Mikayla has great vision and great understanding of our offense. The switch will give her more opportunities to create for us this season,” Kruger said.

Rolling started all 29 games for the Mustangs as a guard a year ago, averaging nine points. Among the starters, she had the highest field goal percentage (102 of 235, 43 percent)

Kruger is also pleased with the depth SMSU has on its bench, which alone tied Crown in scoring at 43-all.

Rosch had 17 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field with five assists and four steals in 25 minutes Monday. Whitney Miller, a sophomore guard, added nine points after going 3 of 6 from the field and 3 of 4 at the free-throw line.

Because of the lopsided victory, Kruger was able to get significant playing time for quite a few role players, including sophomore forward Emilee Duske, junior swingman Hope Bonlander, sophomore guard Megan DeRuyter and freshman forward Kendra Snaza.

Other players battling for playing time are Watts and freshman guards Abby Connell and Brianna VonWahlde.

NOTE: Degler, also a member of the SMSU volleyball team, did not play in the Mustangs season-opener.


Nov. 11 – SMSU 101, Crown College 43

Nov. 15 – at Notre Dame De Namur Classic vs. Notre Dame De Namur, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 16 – at Norte Dame De Namur Classic vs. Cal State-Monterey Bay, 4 p.m.

Nov. 22 – at South Dakota Tech, 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 30 – at Sioux Falls, 4 p.m.

Dec. 6 – Augustana, 6 p.m.

Dec. 7 Wayne State, 5 p.m.

Dec. 13 – at Upper Iowa, 6 p.m.

Dec. 14 at Winona State, 4 p.m.

Dec. 21 – Sioux Falls, 2 p.m.

Jan. 3 – Northern State, 6 p.m.

Jan. 4 – MSU Moorhead, 5 p.m.

Jan. 10 – at St. Cloud, 6 p.m.

Jan. 11 – at Minnesota Duluth, 4 p.m.

Jan. 17 – Winona State, 6 p.m.

Jan. 18 – Upper Iowa, 5 p.m.

Jan. 24 – at Wayne State, 6 p.m.

Jan. 25 – at Augustana 4 p.m.

Jan. 31 – Bemidji State, 6 p.m.

Feb. 1 – Minnesota Crookston (Hawaiian Night), 5 p.m.

Feb. 7 – at Minnesota State, 6 p.m.

Feb. 8 – at Concordia-St. Paul 4 p.m.

Feb. 14 – at University of Mary, 6 p.m.

Feb. 15 – at Minot State, 4 p.m.

Feb. 21 – Concordia-St. Paul, 6 p.m.

Feb. 22 – Minnesota State, 5 p.m.