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Minnesota Crookston women's basketball team overview

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Emma Carpenter averaged 3.7 points and 1.7 assists per game as a freshman last season for Minnesota Crookston.

Three-hundred and eight days ago, the Minnesota Crookston women's basketball team's 2019-20 season came to an end. Saturday, the Golden Eagles will take the court for the first time since.

UMC's 2021 season gets underway at Concordia-St. Paul this weekend, and the Golden Eagles will look to improve on last season's 5-22 record (4-18 in NSIC play). Despite being picked to finish eighth in the NSIC Preseason Poll, there's hope for Minnesota Crookston behind a youthful core that faced adversity last season, but returns almost entirely intact this winter.

Here's what to watch for as the Golden Eagles return to the hardwood:

Roster breakdown

Minnesota Crookston seemingly rolled out a different lineup every night last season. Ten players started at least six games, while no player started every game.

As much as that experience was beneficial for the Golden Eagles, consistency is and still key. This season, coach Mike Roysland will likely be looking to find a more stable core group to rely on.

Whatever that core group looks like, it's a pretty strong bet that Mary Burke and Abby Guidinger will be a part of it. Burke, a 5-foot-1 redshirt sophomore forward was as close to a go-to player as UMC had last year, and ended up leading the team in scoring (9.2 ppg), minutes played, shot attempts, 3-point attempts, field goals made, and 3-pointers made in her return from back surgery. Guidinger, one of the Golden Eagles' two seniors, often looked like UMC's centerpiece with her blend of inside-outside scoring and passing. The 5-foot-10 do-it-all guard was second on the team in scoring (8.1 ppg) and third in assists (1.6 apg).

Center Bren Fox projects to be the Golden Eagles' anchor in the middle. Despite a mononucleosis-interrupted sophomore season, Fox averaged 7.6 points and led the team with 6.7 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 junior will need to improve her efficiency (37.8 field-goal percentage), but she looks like UMC's best choice when it needs a bucket inside.

Junior guard Kylie Post (7.0 ppg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg) surged to the finish last year, her 20 points leading the Golden Eagles to an upset over eventual NSIC Tournament champion St. Cloud State on the last day of the regular season. A 5-foot-7 guard, Post's play style more resembles her name than her position or size. While she took just seven threes last season, missing them all, her hard-nosed drives to the basket allowed her to finish with the team's second-highest shooting percentage.

Joining Post in the backcourt are sophomores Alyssa Peterson and Emma Carpenter. The 5-foot-7 Peterson showed a willingness to let it fly from anywhere last year, hitting 29 of 92 3-pointers and averaging 6.1 points per game. Her shooting range should complement Carpenter's more pass-first style. The 5-foot-10 Carpenter shot just 30 percent from the field, but was second on the team in assists with 46.

Junior Paige Cornale adds depth and size for the backcourt at 5-foot-10, having averaged 3.2 points per game last season. Jes Mertens, a 5-foot-9 freshman from Devils Lake, N.D., has won plaudits from Roysland as being possibly the best defender he's ever recruited. Junior Kylea Praska (0.9 ppg) and senior Jennifer Lax, who played just five minutes last year, round out the guards.

UMC already suffered a big loss this fall when sophomore Mattea Vetsch suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Vetsch was on track to be a key rotation player, having played the second-most minutes on the team and started in more games (21) than anyone else. She made her mark as an outside threat in 2019-20, knocking down 34 treys and hitting double digits scoring in eight of UMC's last 12 games.

Julia Peplinski, a 5-foot-10 junior forward, often provided an inside scoring boost off the bench a year ago. While Peplinski's aggressive playing style limited her at times due to foul trouble, it also allowed her to average 6.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

Senior Ashley Freund, a 5-foot-11 forward, adds a veteran perimeter presence who knocked down 34.8 percent of her 3-pointers last year in limited minutes. 5-foot-10 forward Veronica Schwartz played just 62 minutes as a freshman, but knocked down four of nine 3-pointers.

Freshmen Eden Golliher and Haylee Wheeler, who are both recovering from torn ACLs they suffered during their high school careers, could play roles assuming they're ready to go. Golliher, a 6-foot combo forward, has a versatile offensive game, while the 6-foot-2 Wheeler figures to be a solid low-post presence to support Fox and Peplinski.

Roysland will have options aplenty. Burke, Carpenter, Fox, Guidinger, Peplinski, Peterson and Post all appear like good candidates to start. No matter what, the Golden Eagles appear to be a team that can go at least 10 deep in the regular rotation.

Top storylines

Individual improvement: The most positive sign with Minnesota Crookston right now is that its potential rotation offers a diverse, complementing array of skill sets. In the backcourt, Post is the slasher, Carpenter the "pure" point guard, Peterson the gunner. On the wings, Burke is one who might be taking the last shot, the Guidinger is the all-around playmaker, Mertens the lockdown defender. Down low, Fox brings the size while Peplinski brings the spark.

That's the blueprint for success. But the Golden Eagles still only shot 38 percent from the field, 29 percent from three, and turned it over 16 times per game on average, while allowing 75.7 points per game.

The burning question for UMC this season is to what degree their promising young pieces can turn their periodic flashes into their baseline performance and execution.

Chemistry: While having the bulk of the team return doesn't guarantee success, especially when said team won just five games last season, there's something to be said for this winter's unique circumstances. As teams struggle to get everyone at practice at the same time due to COVID-19 and related concerns, the Golden Eagles' many returners having already developed chemistry and relationships might give them a leg up.

NSIC North breakdown

Here's a look at the teams UMC will compete with for a division title this season (the NSIC is not crowning an overall conference regular-season champion).

Minnesota Duluth, which received all seven first-place votes after a 26-6 regular season (20-2 NSIC), looks loaded for another run at the North Division crown. The Bulldogs, who allowed just 61 points per game last year, return NSIC Player of the Year Brooke Olson (17.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 51.9 shooting percentage), a 6-foot-2 forward. Olson is the headliner, but all in all, five of UMD's top six scorers are back, including forward Sarah Grow (1.9 bpg) and guard Ann Simonet (40.9 3-point percentage).

St. Cloud State upset Minnesota Duluth to win the NSIC Tournament last year, and slotted in at second in the division. The Huskies, who went 23-7, are a balanced squad with four returning double-digit scorers: Tori Wortz, Nikki Kilboten, Brehna Evans and Katrina Theis. Minnesota State Moorhead, the projected third-place team in the North, graduated forward Megan Hintz (15.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg), but center Peyton Boom (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and guard Sarah Jacobson (8.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg) form the Dragons' backbone.

In fourth place, the University of Mary is looking to move on after a 22-win season (15-7 NSIC) led by now-departed forward Cassie Askvig, who averaged 21 points per game. The Marauders will look to do so with senior guard Lauren Rotunda (13.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Northern State forward Lexi Wadsworth (12.3 ppg) leads the Wolves, who after a 14-16 season lose three of their top four scorers.

Behind NSU are Bemidji State in sixth and Minot State in seventh. BSU, which finished 9-18 last year, returns a solid core making up 97 percent of its scoring from last season, led by Trinity Myer's 13.6 points per game. Minot State, looking to rebound from a 7-20 season, will do so without the graduated Mariah Payne (17.7 ppg).

Schedule

Jan. 2-3: at Concordia-St. Paul* (2 p.m., 2 p.m.)

Jan. 8-9: at Minnesota State Moorhead (5:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m.)

Jan. 15-16: vs. Northern State (5:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.)

Jan. 22-23: at Minot State (6 p.m., 2 p.m.)

Jan. 29-30: vs. University of Mary (5:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.)

Feb. 5-6: vs. Minnesota Duluth (5:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.)

Feb. 12-13: at St. Cloud State (6 p.m., 4 p.m.)

Feb. 19-20: vs. Bemidji State (5:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.

*non-conference

All games are streaming on https://goldeneaglesports.com.

The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730 or sports editor Jacob Shames at jshames@crookstontimes.com.

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