Women’s college basketball preview: New UMD will still be tough to beat – Duluth News Tribune

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DULUTH — Maesyn Thiesen admits there have been times when she looked around the court this season and said, “Wow, this looks different.”

That is because it is different, but different can be good. Really good.

Minnesota Duluth will have a new look this season as the Bulldogs graduated three starters in Sarah Grow (9.7 ppg), Ann Simonet (7.1 ppg) and Payton Kahl (5.5 ppg). Those three, along with Brooke Olson (18.0 ppg) and Thiesen (8.8 ppg), have formed the core of UMD over the past three seasons as UMD has gone a combined 64-13, including last year when the Bulldogs went 24- 5 while sharing top overall honors in the NSIC with St. Cloud State as both teams went 19-2 in conference play.

At 6-foot-2, Grow provided a great presence inside as he led the Bulldogs with 58 blocks, Simonet was an energetic player, outscoring the Bulldogs in 3-pointers (36) and steals (49), while Kahl provided unheard-of versatility, a 6-foot guard/forward who could play inside and out.

“It had been a while with all of us starting out on the court,” Thiesen said. “It was fun while it was happening. It’s been a beautiful moment.”

But like all good things, it was time to move on.

UMD has a couple of really good players to build on in their two fifth-year players, Olson (Rice Lake, Wisconsin) and Thiesen (Sauk Centre, Minnesota).

Olson is a three-time NSIC player of the year, while Thiesen is a workhorse, having played the most minutes of any UMD player over the past two seasons.

The Bulldogs’ goals remain to win the conference title and participate in the NCAA Division II tournament.

Minnesota Duluth senior guard/forward Madelyn Granica fires a shot

Minnesota Duluth senior guard/forward Madelyn Granica, left, prepares to shoot a hit three-pointer during the women’s basketball team practice at the Romano Gym on the UMD campus on Thursday, Oct. 27.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

“Only having success for a few years, we always have that expectation no matter who is on the court,” Thiesen said. “We are always going to want to be successful. Even now, a lot of my teammates who are getting more minutes have seen that culture and that culture is so evident. It makes it exciting, but also, the expectation is there. We want to win, and we’re going to do what we have to do to be successful.”

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So far, as good as UMD is off to a 2-1 start going into Tuesday night’s NSIC opener against St. Cloud State.

“It will be exciting to play against St. Cloud,” Thiesen said. “St. Cloud always has such good teams. It will be a good matchup.”

Olson once again leads the way at the start of this fall with 20 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, while Thiesen is averaging 8.7 ppg and 3.0 rpg.

“Here we go again,” said UMD head coach Mandy Pearson.

Pearson was asked what excited her the most.

“I get Brooke Olson and Maesyn Thiesen back,” he said. “I think the best thing to come out of COVID was that I was able to keep some really strong leaders a year longer than they normally would have been here (thanks to the NCAA giving another year of eligibility). That makes my work and my life so much easier. The energy in the team is really strong.”

Minnesota Duluth head coach Mandy Pearson looks on during practice

Framed by moving players, Minnesota Duluth head coach Mandy Pearson, second from left, looks on during the women’s basketball team practice at the Romano Gym on the UMD campus on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

Among the newer faces, Ella Gilbertson, a 6-foot junior guard/forward, is averaging 9.0 ppg and 4.3 rpg off the bench. Senior guards Taytum Rhoades (6.7 ppg, team-leading 5.0 rpg) and Kaylee Nelson (6.3 ppg and 2.7 rpg), as well as senior guard/forward Madelyn Granica (5.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg), have completed the initial rotation.

“We basically had the same team for three years, but now other people will have opportunities,” Pearson said. “It’s going to be fun to see what we’re made of this year. I think it will be a year where we keep getting better and better every step of the way.”

Granica was already a familiar product to Bulldogs fans. She is a strong and courageous player who played valuable minutes for the Bulldogs in previous seasons.

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Meanwhile, junior guard Taya Hakamaki, Cromwell’s 2020 News Tribune All Areas Player of the Year, has provided a spark off the bench. Hakamaki is averaging six points and two steals in just 16.7 minutes per game.

So there’s a lot of firsts for the Bulldogs this year, but that’s okay. Ask Thiesen.

“We are a little bit younger, especially in terms of experience,” Thiesen said. “It has been exciting to discover our identity as a team. We are learning to work together, on the court, offensively and defensively. Our strengths are different now than they were in the past, so it’s been exciting trying to figure out what they are and how we can use them to our advantage.”

Santos expects to see improvement

Sophomore St. Scholastica head coach Jason Schmitz hopes to build on last season, but it won’t be easy playing in the competitive Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The Saints are coming off a 3-22 season and a 3-19 record in MIAC. They got off to an 0-3 start this year after losing their first MIAC game 77-48 to Concordia-Moorhead on Saturday at the Reif Gymnasium in Duluth (yes, MIAC plays a lot of games).

“Overall, things are going well,” Schmitz said. “We’ve struggled with some injury issues early on that have wiped out a lot of our depth, but little by little we’re getting back to health. We finally had a full squad for a couple days of practice last week, which is the first time since the first week of the season.”

The Saints have a relatively new roster with four newcomers. All of them see significant minutes and three are already starting, joining returning starters Miranda Broberg and Megan Hurley.

Broberg, a transfer from Wisconsin-Superior, was the only CSS player to average double figures last year at 14.5 points per game. He earned All-MIAC honorable mention honors. Meanwhile, Hurley is an anonymous player who does the little things that don’t always show up on a scorecard.

Joining them in the starting five is Katie Vaske, a transfer from Hamline, and first-year players Jackie Johnson (Bemidji, Minn.) and Lexi Imdeike (Andover, Minn.).

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Other key returners include senior Eve Turner, a former Hibbing High School product, and junior Ashley Faur and Proctor’s Liz Frase.

“Honestly, I have no idea where we’ll end up in the standings this year, but I know we’ll get better every day and define the pillars of our program this year,” said Schmitz. “We are emphasizing standards-based improvement over measurable goals this year. We don’t want a loss to define us and rather focus on the things we can control every day.

“Basketball is an interesting sport in which many times it is about hitting or missing. If we focus on ourselves, we will continue to improve and see where we are when February rolls around.”

Schmitz is assisted by Jill Hendrickson and Dyami Starks, a Duluth East graduate and former NCAA Division I standout from Rhode Island’s Bryant University. Dyami runs Starks Academy in Duluth.

“Working with Dyami has been great,” Schmitz said. “I was fortunate to coach the Starks Academy U-15 and U-17 teams with him this past spring and summer and it was a natural choice to continue the work of growing basketball in the Duluth area. We want to make Starks Academy and CSS a destination place. He and Jill bring tremendous energy and knowledge.”

Carpenter leads Yellow Jackets

Wisconsin-Superior has a new interim head coach in Emily Carpenter, a former UWS player.

Carpenter wasn’t signed until August and has only two years left to play for the Yellowjackets. Carpenter played with the seniors on this year’s team.

The Yellowjackets are picked to finish sixth in UMAC after going 6-19 overall and 5-9 in conference. They start 2-1.

UWS played the 13th-ranked Simpson on Saturday in Indianola, Iowa, holding on hard before ultimately falling 77-70, showing reason for optimism.

The Yellowjackets have a small recruiting class with just three newcomers. Top returners include Proctor guards Kaelyn Christian, Mady Sanders and Sam Parendo and forward Bryton Kukowski, a Hermantown High School graduate.

Kukowski, who also plays softball, is one of a handful of multi-sport athletes on the team, including Lindrey Schendel (soccer), Brynne Crystal (soccer) and Ely’s Erika Mattson (softball).

UWS will play former WIAC foes Wisconsin-La Crosse and Wisconsin-Platteville in the La Crosse Thanksgiving Classic. The Yellowjackets will play NCAA Division I North Dakota in Grand Forks on December 2 and open UMAC’s game on December 9 against Bethany Lutheran in Mankato, Minnesota.

UWS will host the Superior Shootout Classic December 30-31, featuring the Yellowjackets’ opener against St. Catherine, which is coached by former UWS coach Don Mulhern. It will be the first time the teams have met since Mulhern went to St. Kate’s before the 2016-17 season.