The Crookston Times sat down with Golden Eagles basketball coaches Dan Weisse and Mike Roysland over the last week to talk about the upcoming season and break down their respective exhibitions Wednesday.

Weisse’s men take on Bethel at 4 p.m. at Lysaker Gymnasium, while Roysland and the women follow them with a contest against Concordia (Minn.) at 6 p.m.

Here’s what to watch for:


Rotation taking shape

It’s early, but Weisse has a strong idea of what his rotation will look like.

It wouldn’t be fair to call Minnesota Crookston a one-man team. But the Golden Eagles belong, without question, to Harrison Cleary. The senior point guard averaged 22.2 points, 4.0 assists, 3.1 rebounds and shot 46.7 percent from deep a season ago. Cleary’s one of the most dangerous scorers in the country, and everything Minnesota Crookston does revolves around him. That’s been the case since his freshman season.

Weisse has focused on finding pieces to compliment Cleary, and this season he’s hopeful he has his most yet.

Brian Sitzmann will start at shooting guard. The 6’4 redshirt sophomore is a prototypical “3-and-D” player, averaging 7.0 points and shooting 39.5 percent from deep in 2018-19, and Weisse believes he’s one of the better perimeter defenders in the NSIC.

Ben Juhl, who averaged 8.2 points and shot 45.8 percent from deep, has the ability to come off the bench and play both backcourt positions. Freshman Tyrese Shines, who’s “been getting better and better and better,” will also see playing time Wednesday, and Weisse hopes to be able to rely on him more as the season goes on.

Small forward is somewhat of a question mark, as no Golden Eagle who’s projected to see time there was on the team a season ago.

Ibu Jassey Demba’s upside is sky-high. The 6’7 Demba transferred from Monroe College in the NJCAA, where he averaged 4.5 points last year. The former member of England’s U-18 team is an elite athlete who can guard every position, according to Weisse, but is still learning how to stay disciplined.

“I see him as a role player on offense,” Weisse said. “But … a guy that can guard guards and bigs and hopefully be a shutdown defender and make it really hard on the other team's best offensive player.”

Freshman Quintin Winterfeldt should back up Demba, and has drawn Weisse’s praise for his ability to get to the rim.

Redshirt senior Malcolm Cohen (9.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 34.6 3pt%) has all-conference potential, according to Weisse. At 6’6 and 210 pounds, he’s an undersized starter at power forward, but offers rebounding and toughness. Backing him up will be freshman Reed Miller and JUCO transfer Zac Olson.

In the middle, Javier Nicolau, a lanky 6’10 senior from Spain, averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds a year ago while hitting eight of 18 threes, while redshirt junior Chase Johnson (3.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg) is a more traditional bruiser at 6’8 and 240 pounds. Nicolau is the nominal starter, but Weisse doesn’t consider either of them as such — they’ll both get starter minutes.

“It’ll be one of those situations where who’s playing at the end of the game is the guy who’s giving us a little bit more,” Weisse said.


Impact of freshmen

Last year, five of the Golden Eagles’ top 11 scorers and minutes-getters were freshman. Much of that was out of necessity due to injuries to upperclassmen, but Roysland has high hopes for his four newcomers this year and expects them to contribute.

Alyssa Peterson, a 5’7 guard from Menagha, Minn. was a Class A All-State selection the last two years. In high school, she averaged over 20 points per game while shooting 37 percent from deep.

Mattea Vetsch comes in as another guard with a big-time scoring reputation. The 5’8 guard from Devils Lake, N.D. helped lead her school to three state appearances.

Emma Carpenter joins the team as a 5’10 guard from Eagan, Minn. Upon her commitment, Roysland praised her court vision, length and slashing ability.

Veronica Schwartz, the final member of the class, is an all-around, versatile forward from Parkers Prairie, Minn., who averaged a double-double in high school, along with 2.4 assists and 3.6 steals.

“I think that one of the biggest things is that they all have a good high basketball IQ,” Roysland said. “And I think our returners have done a really great job of trying to get them up to speed just as fast as they can.

“They're fast learners, but they give us different weapons. A couple of them are great 3-point shooters. We've got a couple that can really attack the rim very well. So it's a nice blend, a nice mixture of players that we have.”

Roysland also grouped redshirt freshman Mary Burke, a 5’11 forward who played 46 minutes in Minnesota Crookston’s first two games last year before suffering a back injury that required season-ending surgery, among these newcomers. All eight of Burke’s shot attempts last season came from beyond the arc.

Balanced offense

It’s anyone’s guess who the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer will be this season. Isieoma Odor and Caitlin Michaelis, who combined for 29.1 points per game last season, were both seniors, and leave a void behind both inside and outside.

“I think we'll (replace Odor and Michaelis) by committee, and I think we'll do it with a lot of young people,” Roysland said.

Sophomore Kylie Post, Minnesota Crookston’s leading returning scorer, averaged 8.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and a team-high 2.3 assists. Post has the potential to be an all-around threat, but she’ll have help in Abby Guidinger (8.4 ppg), Paige Weakley (39.8 3pt%), Paige Cornale (47.8 3pt%), Bren Fox (4.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Stephanie McWilliams (3.1 ppg) and others.

Having a wealth of options isn’t much help if those options don’t play as a team, however, but Roysland believes that ball movement is one of the Golden Eagles strengths.

“This team is passing the ball really pretty efficiently right now,” Roysland said. “That's a real bright spot for me.”