Wayne State’s excellence on the hardwood

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • Gary Ross passes the ball to a teammate during a game last season. Ross is one of three seniors on this year’s men’s basketball team.

  • Haley Moore looks for an open teammate in their exhibition with the Huskers on Nov. 2nd.

Navigate Left
Navigate Right

Richard Rhoden, Sports Editor

Two programs that demand excellence.

Basketball season is on the horizon, and the men’s and women’s squads have been hard at work with preseason workouts, and are eager to play someone other than themselves.

Chris Kielsmeier and the Lady Wildcats look to continue their string of dominance, as they return two starters and four letter winners from last year’s team that was 28-5 overall and won the NSIC regular season title for the third time in the last four years with a 19-3 league mark. The Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Division II national tournament for the fourth time in the last five years.

The Lady Wildcats return three key components from last year’s team in Ashton Yossi, Jordan Spencer and Millie Niggeling.

Yossi became the 17th player in school history to score 1,000 points last March when she scored a career-high 27 points vs. Pittsburg State in the Wildcats’ first round NCAA Tournament Yossi enters this season with 1,035 points and is also tied for fifth in career three pointers with 181.

Spencer was a First Team All-NSIC selection last season, averaging 16 points and 6 rebounds per game for the Wildcats. She ranked eighth in the league in scoring and was fifth in field goal percentage, making 51 percent of her shots while scoring double figures in 29 of 33 games.

Spencer set a single season school record last year with 226 free throw attempts. Her 136 made free throws ranked fifth-most on the single season free throws made list at WSC.

Spencer gets plenty of opportunities at the line with her devastating drive to the basket, a move that has not been solved by many. It took one of Division I’s best in Hailey Sample of Nebraska to shut it down. NSIC opponents have their work cut out for them trying to slow down Spencer.

Niggeling spent two seasons at Massachusetts before coming to Wayne State, and assumed the role of the sixth man for the Wildcats. She scored in double figures in 22 contests while shooting 50 percent from the field and 86.4 percent at the free throw line.

Kielsmeier said on the Wayne State Coaches Show Monday that this team will go as far as those three players will take them, as they have grown and matured in the system for a few years and give tutelage and leadership to the newcomers.

The Wildcats return two other players in Katie Hoskins and Alex Nelson. Hoskins has been plagued with injury over her time at Wayne State, while Nelson was a redshirt last season and is vying for Ellen Hansen’s job.

Rice Auditorium is not a friendly confine for any opponent, as the Lady Wildcats are 70-5 at home over the last five seasons.

Wayne State is picked to finish second overall while listed as the favorite to win the NSIC South Division in the Preseason Northern Sun Conference Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll. The Wildcats are also ranked 12th in the country in the first USA Today Coaches Poll.

Kielsmeier says that it isn’t possible to get that kind of recognition if people don’t know your name, and added that it shows the kind of program that has been established at Wayne State.

The Wildcats begin the 2014-15 season for real this Friday in the confines of Rice Auditorium against in-state foe University of Nebraska-Kearney at 6 p.m. in the NSIC/MIAA Challenge.

Brian Dolan enters his second season at the helm of the Wildcats and led them to a 9-19 overall record and a 5-17 mark in the NSIC in his first year. WSC recorded arguably the biggest upset in the first round history of the NSIC Men’s Basketball Tournament defeating Bemidji State.

The Wildcats have two starters and five letter winners from last season. The Wildcats return six players from last year’s team in Gary Ross, Joel Heesch, Patrick Kurth, David Anderson, Jordan Holdsworth and Jamie Pearson.

Due to injuries and other problems, a lot of Wayne State’s returners did not see a lot of the court last season, but according to Dolan, they have made long strides in the off season and are playing the best basketball of their lives.

Keeping everyone healthy and continuing to mesh as a program is going to be the main focus for the men’s team this season.

It’s not exciting to watch a struggling team, but some struggles are needed to become one of the main powerhouses of the NSIC.

Wayne State’s Player to Watch in the NSIC this season is Kurth. The 6’9” senior center averaged 4 points and 3 rebounds per game last season while appearing in 19 games for the Wildcats. Kurth shot 54 percent from the field and 73 percent from the free throw line for the Wildcats.

As they try and mold into Dolan’s system, the Wildcats added a plethora of players over the off season, including Dovydas Burneika, from Lithuania. The 6’9” center played his senior year of high school at Parkview Christian in Lincoln, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds for the John Baylor Test Prep Club Team.

Another player for Wayne State to watch is Tyler Nagy. If the name Nagy rings a bell, it’s because Tyler’s father, Scott, is a college basketball coach and the current South Dakota State Jackrabbits head men’s basketball coach. He has served as head coach at South Dakota State since 1995. As for Tyler, he averaged 21 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds per game during his senior season.

Wayne State was projected to finish 15th in the NSIC this season. The only team picked to finish worse than Wayne State was Minnesota Crookston.

As Coach Dolan said Monday at the Wayne State Coaches Show, not all of the pieces are there, but it is a process and they have a lot of good things going right now. He says they’ll be in some games they weren’t in last year and a lot more competitive.

Wayne State opens the 2014-15 season on Friday in Bartlesville, Okla., taking on Arkansas Tech in the GAC/NSIC Challenge.