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For the Lakeland College women's basketball team, the 2006-2007 season looks to bring a host of new elements to the program's rich tradition.
With a new conference and 11 incoming freshman added to the seven members of last year's 21-8 squad, many might consider this year a season to learn, grow and adjust.
However, head coach April Arvan, who enters her 13th season, still holds the same goals in mind as she would any other year - win a conference championship and get into the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Muskies claimed the final Lake Michigan Conference Championship crown for the 12th time in the program's history and made their fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we'll be competitive in the new conference," Arvan said of the newly-formed Northern Athletics Conference, which combines members of the old Lake Michigan and Northern Illinois-Iowa Conferences. "We're not going to get too far ahead of ourselves, so we're just going to take it one game at a time.
"We don't get the automatic bid this year, so we wanted to focus on our non-conference opponents, which should benefit us at the end of February if we can get some victories. The Tip-Off Tournament is strong, and playing Elmhurst and Carroll should help us as well because they should return strong teams."
The Muskies will also have their hands full in the power-packed NAC, as former LMC members Concordia, Wis., Edgewood and Wisconsin Lutheran return the majority of their players from last year's strong squads. Tough former NIIC teams, such as Aurora, Benedictine and Rockford, will also join in the fray.
"I think our team views it as every team in the NAC will bring a challenge, based on who has graduated players and who hasn't," Arvan said. "Lakeland College has graduated players, so we really believe that every team in the NAC is the strongest team in the NAC. We will have that mentality from November all the way through February.
"Concordia, Wis., is far more experienced than many of the teams in the NAC, but I think every single team in the conference can surprise anyone."
Although experience is sure to be a key factor with the squad welcoming so many new faces, they do return four seasoned players that have logged significant minutes as starters throughout their career.
Seniors Jenna Boehm (Green Bay/Green Bay Preble), Danielle Duranceau (Waukesha/Waukesha West) and Amanda Thielmann (Elkhart Lake/Elkhart Lake) are all expected to provide a balance of leadership and scoring depth, while junior Brenda Paulson (Clayton/Clayton) has plenty of on-court experience that should help the young Muskies.
Boehm and Duranceau will shoulder the majority of the load in the post, as Boehm tallied 10.8 points per game on an LMC-leading .587 field goal percentage and led the team in rebounds with 6.9 per game last season. Her efforts earned her an All-LMC Honorable Mention, and this year the importance of her role will only increase.
"As our top returning scorer, Jenna is the anchor of what we're doing offensively and the anchor in the backcourt on defense," Arvan said. "She provides a level of leadership and experience since she started as a freshman. She knows exactly what it takes to perform in our program at a high level."
Duranceau's shooting range makes her a threat from both the inside and outside, as she knocked down close to 50 percent of her shots from the field last year for 5.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
"Danielle is stepping into Beth Porter's role," Arvan said, as the graduated Porter was a fixture in the post for the Muskies last season averaging 11.1 points and shooting 47 percent, pulling down 4.7 rebounds per game and finishing second in the LMC in free throw percentage at 81.7 percent.
"We need Danielle to be a double-double type player during any given game in scoring and rebounding. She will be expected to step up and contribute offensively and defensively in those categories. The ball is pretty much in her court to get that done.
"Danielle and Jenna really need to play well this year for us in our inside game for us to be successful."
The team will also look to Thielmann and Paulson to provide valuable playing time at the guard spots. However, their roles may be somewhat different than those they have been accustomed to filling in previous years.
"Amanda really needs to step up and lead this team," Arvan said. "She's been playing back-up point guard for the last three years, and now she has the opportunity to start at point."
Thielmann started 17 games for the Muskies last year, averaging 4.0 points per game, and should see an increase in her number of scoring opportunities as she could take over point guard duties from Kristi Thill, who capped off a stellar career last year as Lakeland women's basketball's seventh all-time leading scorer. Thill led the team with 13.5 points per game and was first in the LMC for three-point field goals made per game and grabbed 5.9 rebounds per game.
Paulson, who started 21 games last year and averaged 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds, might also be asked to step outside her normal on-court position in order to add some experience to a young inside game.
"We may move Brenda Paulson to a four this year just because of my concerns of defending on the inside," Arvan said, as the Muskies' inside game consists of all freshmen with the exception of Boehm and Duranceau.
"Brenda also has to perform and contribute consistently on offense and put the ball in the hoop for us," Arvan said. "She also has to deal with playing the two, three and four spot until some of our new players come around a little on the inside game."
Junior Allison Komaromy (Algonquin, Ill./Dundee Crown) and sophomore Kasey Gussert (Kingsford, Mich./Kingsford) will also be expected to step into bigger roles this season, as their accumulated on-court experience at the guard position should help immensely.
"Allison should compete for some playing time, and Kasey Gussert has stepped up her game a couple of notches, Arvan said. "With her experience last year as a freshman, we expect her to contribute some minutes.
"The group of seniors we have and Kasey Gussert as a sophomore and Allison and Brenda as juniors have to carry the load leadership-wise because of all the newcomers we have on our roster. That's an area we can't fall short on this season in particular, otherwise we have no direction. Our tradition needs to be emphasized this year through those returnees.
I've been pretty impressed with how they have taken the new kids under their wings and helped them out because we need those newcomers to play."
The lone remaining returnee is senior guard/forward Stacy Kraemer (Elkhart Lake/Elkhart Lake), who saw action in seven games last season.
"Stacy Kraemer works so hard in practice," Arvan said. "She is definitely one of the hardest working players on our roster, day in and day out in every single play. She provides us with some leadership that may translate into some minutes this year.
"Everybody on our team has a different element that they're bringing to the court, which is good for us depth-wise. We might be able to be a little deeper than we were last year, but our depth is also comprised of a lot of newcomers on our team, so how they respond should be interesting."
Some of the squad's newcomers appear to be vying for immediate playing time and significant starting roles early on.
KC Blahnik (Gladstone, Mich./Gladstone) and Megan Chart (Burlington/Waterford Union) should see plenty of playing time as guards their first year.
"Blahnik is so fast and so athletic that she's hard not to have on the court," Arvan said. "What has impressed me about Megan is how she doesn't shy away from competition. She's not stepping back as a newcomer just waiting for things to come to her, she's taking it over."
Although Brittanie Paulus (Belgium/Ozaukee) is still making the transition from being a Lakeland volleyball player this fall to basketball, she has shown early signs of having an impact at a guard spot.
"I think she's a lot like me where she hates to lose more than she loves to win," Arvan laughed. "That competitiveness may move her right into a starting position as a freshman."
Nikki Commons (Bonduel/Bonduel) and Terra Hiben (Boyceville/Boyceville) will also look to add depth and quickness at the guard position off the bench.
A perennially strong Lakeland inside game has several new additions this year to aid Boehm and Duranceau, including the welcome height of six-footers Kim Linger (Eldorado/Laconia) and Sara Roberts (Escanaba, Mich./Escanaba).
"We'll be a better team if we're able to add their height; otherwise we're playing 5-10," Arvan said of the pair, although Roberts has been fighting an injury and Linger is also making the transition from the volleyball season.
Emily Agner (Kenosha/Bradford) has also made a positive impression early on, which could put her in the regular rotation.
"She has showed some promise in competition," Arvan said. "We expect that she will see some minutes throughout the course of this year, whether they are go-to minutes or role minutes will depend on how she continues to develop."
Also looking to contribute in the post will be Kayla Moffatt (Greenfield/Whitnall), Katie Kilton (Waukesha/Waukesha North) and DeAnna Rettchlag (Juneau/Dodgeland).
"There aren't any newcomers that we're unhappy with," Arvan said. "I could pretty much go through all of the new names and say that all of them have been contributing. It's hard to single any of the newcomers out, but I would say up to this point Blahnik and Chart have held their own.
"It's going to be a challenging year in many different areas, yet one of the more exciting ones for our players and our staff. Our seniors are excited to prove that we can take a handful of newcomers and integrate them into our system just as easily as the returnees mesh with each other. There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement in our gym right now."