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A handful of experienced players will play a big role in carrying the Lakeland College women's basketball team in the 2012-13 season, as the Muskies attempt to stay near the top of the Northern Athletics Conference.
The Muskies' roster includes a mixture of five returnees coupled with 10 newcomers. The group is expected to grow as the season goes on for a Lakeland team that is coming off an 18-8 record last year, including a 13-5 mark in the NAC North Division.
"We're definitely going to grow, every game is a building block," said Lakeland Head Coach Lindsey Vande Hoef, who is in her second year leading the program. "We've set ourselves up to be challenged with a tough early season schedule. We'll see how tough we are and what we're made of."
The Muskies open their season Friday night against St. Norbert College, a perennially strong team that is the preseason favorite in the Midwest Conference. The game is part of St. Norbert's Baylake Bank Tip-Off Tournament, which features a strong field that also includes nationally ranked Carthage College as well as a University of Wisconsin-River Falls team that last year qualified for the NCAA Division III national tourney.
Lakeland returns three starters among its five returnees. Senior forward Becky Mayo (Gladstone, Mich.) was the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder last year, averaging 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. She is joined by a pair of backcourt players, senior Dana Henrichs (Fall Creek, Wis.) and junior Taylor Jandrin (Forestville, Wis.) as returning starters.
Those three are joined by a pair of experienced returnees in juniors Aimee Thrune (Prairie du Sac, Wis.) and Leah Eisner (Stevens Point, Wis.). The five returnees make a good nucleus for a team that is again expected to contend in the NAC North after being picked to finish second in a preseason poll of league coaches.
Mayo and Eisner will lead the Muskie frontcourt. The 5-11 Mayo was productive offensively last year in her first year as a starter and also was a force defensively with 35 blocked shots. Eisner was the team's leading scorer off the bench last year averaging 7.0 points per game, and at 6-1 will give the team good size on the interior.
Thrune, Henrichs and Jandrin will head the backcourt. Henrichs and Jandrin scored 8.7 points and 6.0 points, respectively, last year, and the two combined to make 65 three-pointers. Both averaged around 30 minutes per game last year, and Henrichs also was third on the squad with 38 steals.
Thrune averaged 4.7 points and 2.0 assists per game off the bench and is taking over the point guard role held by Becca Tilleman. Tilleman led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio last year and paced the team in assists and steals.
"Becky and Leah are going to give us good post play, we're excited about how hard they've been working," Vande Hoef said. "Aimee's done a great job in making the transition to leading and being a coach on the floor. Dana and Taylor have (also) done an outstanding job, both are really improved and are buying into the system we've tried to implement."
Ceara Donlevy (Fr.-Green Bay, Wis.) doesn't quite count as a returnee, but was a part of the team last season. The 5-10 forward was a medical redshirt last year, and Vande Hoef said her time with the team is paying off this year as she gets acclimated to being on the court again.
The rest of the rotation will develop as the season goes on, in part due to a rash of injuries that have struck the class of newcomers. Freshman forward Chaslynne Moore (New Brighton, Minn.) is going to miss the season due to carpal tunnel surgery, and 5-11 forward Rachael Millner (Fr.-Mundelein, Ill.) and 5-2 guard Gaby Cappaert (Fr.-Stephenson, Mich.) both also have been injured and may or may not return this season.
Freshmen Trista Barron (Escanaba, Mich.) and Natalie Neitzel (Theresa, Wis.) both will back Thrune at the point guard spot, and Vande Hoef said she sees "a ton of potential in both. Once we get them transitioned to our style of play they're going to be good players."
Lexie Greenheck (Fr.-Oostburg, Wis.) is a tall (5-10) guard, who due to injuries has had to adjust to playing inside in practice. Vande Hoef has been thrilled with her attitude in doing whatever she's been asked, and she also likes freshman post player Liz Morrison (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.).
"Becky (Mayo) and Leah (Eisner) are our top post players, but Liz is going to do a great job helping off the bench," Vande Hoef said. "She'll give them a break, and she's going to do some good things too."
Other guards who will add depth for the team include Callie Olson (Fr.-Middleton, Wis.), Paige Papineau (So.-Green Bay, Wis.) and Kate Wallen (So.-Mundelein, Ill.). Olson, at 5-10, is transitioning back to playing as a guard after playing inside in high school. Papineau is a transfer from NAC rival Concordia University Wisconsin, a program Vande Hoef said she has great respect for, while Wallen is a member of the Lakeland softball team who is joining the basketball squad for the first time.
The Muskies will be competing in an NAC North Division that does not include Wisconsin Lutheran College, which won the division last year. Concordia Wisconsin is the preseason favorite in the division, and Lakeland will get a good test of how it measures up with the Falcons early in the season. The two teams face each other twice in the first month of the season, a scheduling quirk in the teams' 18-game conference slates.
Lakeland is not far removed from a string of 18 consecutive winning seasons that ended in 2010-11. The Muskies began a new streak last season and proved to be a team to fear, handing Wisconsin Lutheran its lone loss in conference play last season.
Lakeland's game against St. Norbert Friday night at 7 p.m. is available to watch online at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/snc.portal#. Live stats from both of the Muskies' games also will be available at http://www.snc.edu/athletics/teamfiles/livestats/xlive.htm.