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The Lakeland women's basketball team will begin its season this weekend in the annual "Play with Grace" Tip-Off Tournament.
The Muskies will face former Lake Michigan Conference foe Milwaukee School of Engineering at 6 p.m. North Park University (Chicago, Ill.) and MacMurray College (Jacksonville, Ill.) are also in the tournament and will face off at 8 p.m.
Friday's winners will play Saturday at 4 p.m. in the championship game. Friday's losers will play at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The Muskies struggled against MSOE in LMC action last season, and will look to avenge a bitter 52-47 loss in their final regular-season home game.
Although MSOE lost a few key components from last year's 8-18 team, they do return their top threat, senior Catherine Chappel, who was named LMC Player of the Year last season and was 14th in the nation in scoring averaging 21.0 points per game.
The Muskies have also been adjusting to some new faces on their roster, as they have 12 freshmen this year. The squad also graduated close to 30 points per game on offense between last year's five seniors, two of which were starters and All-LMC honorees in Kristi Thill (13.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Beth Porter (11.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
However, the larger-than-normal number of new players and loss of top scorers does not seem to faze head coach April Arvan.
"I like what I'm seeing in practice," she said. "We lost a lot, so it has yet to be determined if we're going to be able to fill those voids with our graduating class.
"I'm confident we're working hard to get there, but a newcomer is still a newcomer that needs to learn our system and play together with the returnees. We're hoping to get them playing like juniors by the Tip-Off Tournament."
The squad does return senior forward Jenna Boehm, an Honorable Mention All-LMC selection, as well as three experienced starters in forward Danielle Duranceau and guards Amanda Thielmann and Brenda Paulson. Boehm averaged 10.8 points per game on an LMC-leading 58 percent shooting percentage and led the team with 6.9 rebounds per game last season, while Duranceau shot 49 percent from the floor for 5.7 points per game.
Due to the team's lack of returning experience, several freshmen are expected to immediately step into major roles.
"Early indications show KC Blahnik and Megan Chart seeing playing time their first year," Arvan said, noting Brittanie Paulus and Emily Agner have also shown signs of contributing talent.
MSOE will be building from almost a completely new roster, as they only return three players other than Chappel. Senior point guard Ashley Edwards and junior forward/guard Emily Jungbluth have the most playing experience, while senior guard Larissa Matheys will also be expected to help lead the young squad.
Lakeland will have either North Park or MacMurray to contend with on Saturday, pending the results of Friday's games. Both teams had fairly strong 2005-06 campaigns.
North Park returns an experienced and tournament tested squad with nine letter winners from last year's 13-13 team, which faced eight nationally ranked teams, beating three of those teams and taking another into overtime.
Although the squad lost 1,000-point scorers Megan Slattery and Shandrel Young, they return unanimous first team All-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin selection Laura Mount, who led North Park in scoring (13.9 points), steals (2.40) and assists (3.56). Other returning starters include forward Evie Peterson and point guard Anna Mueller. Peterson led the Vikings in rebounding with 6.3 and was second in scoring with 11.0 points, while Mueller averaged 2.31 assists.
MacMurray, coached by 2000 Lakeland graduate Teri Johnson, was 9-17 last season, ending with a loss to eventual St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion Maryville University, who defeated Lakeland, 48-41, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Lady Highlanders will welcome a host of new players this year that should compete for playing time after losing four starters from last year's squad, including two of their top scorers in All-Conference players Katie Carls and Erica Ernst. Carls led the team in scoring with 16.2 points and tallied 4.8 rebounds, while Ernst recorded 10.3 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Guard Rhonda Ward and post player Laura Humphreys are the only returnees from last year's squad. Ward averaged 11.0 points and 3.4 rebounds, while Humphreys came off the bench to average almost 50 percent shooting and averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds.
"It's exciting for us because MSOE is a team that beat us last year and we open with them," Arvan said. "North Park is supposed to be pretty strong in the CCIW, and it's exciting to have MacMurray in our tournament because Teri Johnson is an alum and having her come up and participate should make competition pretty solid."