Minnesota Crookston women's basketball season in review

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Jes Mertens led the Minnesota Crookston women's basketball team in scoring as a freshman, and was named to the NSIC North All-Defensive and All-Freshman teams.

This article is the first in a series recapping the winter sports season for Crookston High School and the University of Minnesota Crookston. First up: Minnesota Crookston women's basketball.

The Minnesota Crookston women's basketball team's opening weekend turned out to be a microcosm of its entire season.

In their first game, the Golden Eagles were blown out by Concordia-St. Paul, 95-32. A day later, they came back to take the Golden Bears to the wire, falling short in a 54-53 nail-biter.

For much of the winter, UMC alternated between blowout losses and close, competitive games against the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference's best teams. On a few occasions, the Golden Eagles were able to break through. They swept Northern State in their first series at home, scoring their first NSIC weekend sweep in three years. On Jan. 30, they prevailed over the University of Mary.

But more common were the instances when Minnesota Crookston fell just short. It got within two points of eventual NSIC champion Minnesota Duluth in the final minute, only to lose out. It let a late fourth-quarter tie slip away at St. Cloud State. On the second-to-last day of the season, Mary Burke missed a buzzer-beater that would have beaten NSIC semifinalist Bemidji State.

This inconsistency, and the 3-13 season resulting from it, can be explained, at least in part, by inexperience. The Golden Eagles' top minutes-getter was freshman Jes Mertens. Sophomores Burke, Alyssa Peterson, and Emma Carpenter all saw significant playing time, as did freshmen Eden Golliher and Haylee Wheeler.

Injuries played a role too. Mattea Vetsch, UMC's second-leading minutes-getter in 2019-20, tore her ACL before the season. Abby Guidinger, its second-leading scorer, suffered a foot injury that held her out of the final 11 games. Key reserve Paige Cornale missed the entire season as well.

But whatever the reasons, the sources of Minnesota Crookston's struggles were easily apparent. The Golden Eagles shot 35 percent from the field, the second-worst figure in the NSIC. They were held under 60 points eight times, and under 50 points five times. Mertens, their leading scorer, averaged just 10.3 points per game. Defensively, they allowed the highest shooting percentage in the conference.

The Times takes a look back at UMC's 2021 campaign and a look ahead to the future.

Bren Fox averaged 10.1 points per game, second on the Golden Eagles, and led the team in rebounds at 5.5 per game.

Key facts

  • Record: 3-13 (3-11 NSIC)
  • Regular season: eighth in NSIC North
  • Postseason: did not qualify for NSIC Tournament
  • Team stats: 57.9 points per game, 70.2 points per game allowed
  • Statistical leaders: Jes Mertens (10.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.2 spg), Bren Fox (10.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg), Kylie Post (9.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 spg), Mary Burke (9.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 39.7 3pt%), Emma Carpenter (7.0 ppg, 2.0 apg, 38.8 3pt%)
  • Awards: Jes Mertens named to NSIC North All-Defensive Team, NSIC North All-Freshman Team

Memorable moment

The Golden Eagles' first conference sweep since 2018 showed what they could be at their best.

UMC had four double-digit scorers in its 66-63 win in the first win over Northern State, and three with at least 10 points in its 69-64 sweep clincher. It knocked down 40 percent of its 3-pointers (while its overall shooting percentage was low for the season, UMC ranked eighth in the league in 3-point shooting) and shot over 80 percent from the line.

Mertens was a ballhawk, with an astounding seven steals in the first game, and scored 19 points in the second game. Burke and Carpenter hit big shots, while Kylie Post was aggressive on both ends.

All of that came with the Golden Eagles' two main posts, Bren Fox and Julia Peplinski, out due to injury. Wheeler, in her first major action of the season, stepped up with 10 points and five boards in the Saturday game.

Mary Burke shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point distance this season.

What's next?

Guidinger, Ashley Freund and Jennifer Lax won't be taking advantage of the NCAA's extra year of eligibility, issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All three seniors are graduating this spring.

The good news for Minnesota Crookston: everybody else should be back. 

Mertens adjusted to the college game better than anyone could have hoped, and earned NSIC North All-Defensive Team honors in doing so. She'll be back alongside Burke, who asserted herself as one of the conference's top outside shooters. Post had the ability to take over periods at times as a scoring guard. She'll provide senior leadership along with Fox, Peplinski, Cornale and Kylea Praska — the largest senior class UMC has had recently.

The Golden Eagles should be able to go at least nine deep: Post, Carpenter and Peterson in the backcourt, Mertens, Burke and Vetsch on the wing, and Fox, Peplinski and Wheeler down low. There's Praska, Cornale, Golliher and Veronica Schwartz too. That's not even mentioning their incoming class, which currently consists of three six-footers in Abigail Leach, Abi Fraaza and Alex Page.

Kylie Post was Minnesota Crookston's third-leading scorer this season.

If all of this sounds similar to the Golden Eagles' outlook after last season, there's a reason. UMC went 5-22 in 2019-20 with an even younger roster, but one that carried optimism into the offseason due to a deep returning core.

This winter, for one reason or another, that core didn't quite take the leap in the perpetually tough NSIC. For now, the Golden Eagles and coach Mike Roysland will have to hope that another year is enough time for a promising roster to fully bloom.

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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