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With a new coach and an experienced senior class, the Lakeland College women's basketball team has big goals in mind for the 2011-12 season.
The Muskies, who finished sixth in the Northern Athletics Conference North Division last year with a 6-12 mark, look to make a run at the title this season. With renewed confidence and a new approach to the game, the team is ready to make strides in the right direction.
First-year head coach Lindsey VandeHoef likes the leadership she has on her team and expects to be a competitor in the NAC this season. "We have five seniors coming back and we have some talented underclassmen that I believe will allow us to be very competitive in the NAC," said VandeHoef.
Under VandeHoef's leadership, the team is learning to play an up-tempo offense and be more team-oriented on defense. After their struggles last season, the team is excited to work hard and they understand what it will take to get back on top.
"Our main goal this season is to win the NAC," said VandeHoef. "In order to meet that goal, we have a formula to get there. We need to play smart, intelligent basketball and work as a team on defense to limit our opponents to 35 percent shooting and force more turnovers than we make. We also want to shoot 45 percent as a team, out-rebound our opponents, win in the paint and finish at the free throw line. We want to get to the line, but know that we have to convert those opportunities."
The Muskies biggest challenge this season will be changing their mentality in practice and the overall culture of the program. The team knows that to execute their up-tempo style of play they have to be well conditioned. "I demand a lot of my team in practice," said VandeHoef. "I know what it's going to take in a game, and they have to put in the work to be able to perform on the court."
Lakeland will lean on the seniors to provide leadership and solid play in practice and in games. The team will look to senior point guard Becca Tilleman (Green Bay, Wis.) to set the tempo and being the change. Last season Tilleman was a distributor as she led the team with 78 assists, averaging 4.4 points per game in 25.4 minutes. She was also the team's leader in steals with 63.
"Tilleman is going to be a phenomenal leader on the court," said VandeHoef. "Every day you can see it, she wants to win. She goes hard every play and sets the tone for everything we do."
VandeHoef also expects sophomore point guard Aimee Thrune to play a significant role this season. Thrune led the team in minutes per game last season, averaging 26.7 per game, while scoring 4.3 points and grabbing 2.3 rebounds per game. "Aimee is a vocal leader and has a high basketball I.Q.," said VandeHoef. "When she's in the game, there isn't much of a drop off from Tilleman. I believe she will be a great point guard here at Lakeland."
Lakeland will depend on juniors Becky Mayo (Gladstone, Mich.) and Dana Henrichs (Fall Creek, Wis.), as well as sophomores Taylor Jandrin (Forestville, Wis.) and transfer Jessica Genke (Kiel, Wis.)
Mayo looks to improve from last year when she averaged 10 minutes per game, recording two rebounds and 4.6 points per game. "Becky is a smart defender in the post and she is learning how to become and offensive threat as well," said VandeHoef. "She did a lot of work in the offseason and I feel she will help us inside this season."
Henrichs returns from a nagging wrist injury that limited her play last season, but she remains one of the Muskies' elite defenders and looks to improve her offensive game this season. "Dana has shown the will to work hard on defense and play well within the system," said VandeHoef. "She does a tremendous job on the defensive end, and is becoming more of a scoring threat."
Genke comes to Lakeland after a year at the University of Dubuque. She took a year off from playing, but VandeHoef is excited to have her on the team. "Jess has done a great job of getting back into the game," said VandeHoef. "She does a great job running the floor and is a phenomenal rebounder. I'm excited to see what she can do."
Jandrin looks to have a breakout year this season after not seeing much playing time last season. "Our team chose Taylor as a captain this year and it's a new role for her," said VandeHoef. "I know she has the talent and skills to be an outstanding player. She just needs to gain the confidence and realize her potential."
The Muskies also return a threat on the inside with 6-foot-1 center Leah Eisner. The Stevens Point, Wis. native returns after missing last season with a knee injury. VandeHoef has dealt with knee injuries before and has the player's health in mind.
"I just want Leah to get back to 100 percent," said VandeHoef. "I know it was a serious injury, and she needs to know that there isn't a lot of pressure on her. I want her to be able to play hard and now worry about her injury and just play basketball. I believe she will get us some good looks and be a physical presence inside for us."
Seniors Becca Paulson (Clayton, Wis.), Erin Cepa (Glenview, Ill.), Allison Davis (Sheboygan, Wis.) and Alyssa Schuttenhelm (Waterford, Wis.) are expected to provide valuable minutes this season.
Paulson is a high-energy player who brings intensity to the team and pushes her teammates. "Becca is a player that every coach loves to have," said VandeHoef. "She's got great heart and gives her all every time she's on the floor."
Davis returns as the team's leading rebounder (4.7) from last year and also averaged 6.2 points in 18.5 minutes per game. "Davis is a solid post presence and we will look to her to be a leader both on and off the court as well as providing some solid minutes off the bench," said VandeHoef.
Schuttenhelm was the team's leader in field goal percentage (.412) while also averaging 3.7 rebounds and 7.1 points per game. "Alyssa is another athletic post player that I believe will give us depth and a great scorer off the bench," said VandeHoef.
Cepa is the team's leading scorer averaging 7.3 points with 3.4 rebounds per game in 20.4 minutes last season. "Erin has battled some injuries early-on, but I expect her to be a solid outside threat for us this year," said VandeHoef. "She works hard and I know she, like the other seniors, wants to win and go out with a winning season."
Other players that will contribute this season are freshmen guards Erin Hinton (Chicago, Ill.) and Sara Weibel (Rockland, Wis.) and freshmen forwards Allie Thompson (Plymouth, Wis.) and Ceara Don Levy (Green Bay, Wis.)
The Muskies open their 2011-12 campaign at home against Beloit College on Nov. 18 as part of the Lakeland College Tip-Off Classic. Lakeland begins NAC play on Nov. 26 against Alverno College. "We've had some tough scrimmages that we've been able to treat like games," said VandeHoef. "I feel like this will allow us to open up and play our game and play hard out of the gate."
Over the holiday break, the team travels to the Daytona Beach Shootout in Daytona Beach, Fla. "We are excited to escape the winter weather and travel to Florida," said VandeHoef. "I want the team to enjoy the trip, but we also want to come away with two wins."
The NAC Tournament begins on Feb. 18 with the top eight teams from both divisions. "We are going to focus on our team and play our game," said VandeHoef. "I want us to be confident when we step on the floor and have the attitude that we can win any game. We are excited to get started, and will take the season one game at a time."