The annual MIAC pre-season coach’s poll was released a week ago, just as I went into the hospital. I am home and recovering now and I was able to take a look at the poll for the 1st time today. It looks a lot like a list I had made a couple weeks ago. We both had St. Thomas, Gustavus, Bethel, St. Ben’s and Augsburg 1 through 5, and Concordia 10. We both had Carleton, Macalester, St. Kate’s and St. Mary’s 6 through 9, and Hamline and St. Olaf 11 and 12.
1. St. Thomas 17-1 (18-0, 31-1 last year, lost to Tufts 60-57 in D3 Final 4 SF)
2. Gustavus 16-2 (17-1, 25-3, lost at St. Thomas 66-49 in MIAC playoff finals)
Everybody agrees that these are your bona fide title contenders. St. Thomas has now won an MIAC title, whether regular or post-season or both, every year from 2010 to the present—5 regular season and 8 playoff titles in all over a period of 8 years, with 208 wins and 34 losses (.851). Now they go forward without MIAC PoY and all-American Kaitlin Langer (Hill-Murray). But, have no fear or, rather, if you are playing St. Thomas, have fear. The Tommies and coach Ruth Sinn return guards Lauren Fischer and Lucia Renikoff (junior, Mpls. Washburn) (9 ppg each), and center Hannah Spaulding (6-2, junior, Annandale, 7 ppg as Langer’s understudy), among other names that are familiar to our readers (Maddie Wolkow, Kaylie Brazil, Sarah Krynski, McKenna DuBois, Bobbi Brendefer). Another solid freshman class features Madi Radtke (Lester Prairie), Macy Hatlestadt (Alex) and Kaia Porter (Roseville), among several others.
Gustavus counters with the likely 2018 MIAC PoY, guard Mikayla Miller (Goodhue, 17 ppg), late-bloomer Miranda Rice (5-10, junior, Forest Lake, 16 ppg) at the 4, and Justin Lee (5-7 junior, guard, Dawson-Boyd) at the other guard. Plus, Alison Hinck, formerly of White Bear Lake, figures to contribute after moving from UMD, where leg problems kept her out of action last year. A Gustavus title is not out of the question. Neither team has an ironclad advantage head-to-head at any position unless it’s Rice for the Gusties at the 4.
But the Tommie tradition is a little too much not to like until there’s a lot bigger crack in the armor than you’re going to see this year.
3. Bethel 14-4 (16-2, 22-5, lost at Gustavus 72-67 in MIAC playoff SF)
Bethel and coach John Herbrechtsmeyer are a solid pick to repeat at #3. Center Hannah Johnson (6-1, junior, Duluth East, 12 ppg), forward Taite Anderson (5-10, sophomore, White Bear Lake, 12 ppg) and guard Abby Miller (5-3, senior, Howard Lake, 12 ppg) lead the way. Jasmine Bretoi (5-10, Centennial, senior, 8 ppg) gives the Royals another option. We here a Northstar Girls Hoops also have high expectatons for freshman point guard Danielle Williams of Zimmerman, but fellow freshmen Elizabeth Schwartz (Southwest Christian) and Lauren Bonin (Lakeview Christian) will also be solid MIAC players, maybe not it 2017 but soon.
4. St. Ben’s 12-6 (11-7, 16-11, lost at St. Thomas 75-52 in MIAC playoff SF)
20 years ago St. Ben’s and St. Thomas were the Big 2 in the MIAC, and St. Ben’s was national runnerup in 1999. The Knights have fallen from that lofty perch the past decade and they won’t be that good in 2018. But, you can never write of a Mike Durbin team, and this one is no exception. For one thing, there’s awesome size—6-3 senior Nikki Fokken (Pine Island), 6-foot senior Kate Banovetz (Holy Angels) and 5-11 senior Chelsea Guetter (Wabasso). They scored 25.5 ppg a year ago and are the MIAC’s tallest an best front court. And that doesn’t even count 6-2 Alex Johnson of Becker, who will remain in a reserve role but will be better than a lot of starters in the conference..
One of the guards will be 5-4 sophomore Sidney Schiffler (Albany). The other could by 6-0 freshman Sophie Koeppl (Providence).
5. Augsburg 11-7 (8-10, 15-11, lost at Bethel 70-56 in MIAC playoff QF)
Augsburg continues to improve under veteran coach Ted Riverso (it was under Riverso that St. Thomas won its only national title in 1991). The Augies will be le by guards Tamira McLemore (5-4, sophomore, Eagan, 14 ppg) and Kaezha Wubben (5-7, sophomore, Hopkins, 11 ppg). And, they go 5-11, 5-10, 5-9 across the front. 5 of their top 6 players are sophomores and so a breakout into the top 3 is possible—in 2019.
6. Carleton 9-9 (6-12, 8-17, lost at Gustavus 73-44)
If the Knights can finish 6th, it will be their top finish in a decade. They return 5 contributors who scored 12, 12, 10, 9 and 8 points. Sarah Waldfogel (Blake, 5-11, senior, 10 ppg) and Ann Hamilton (Tonka, 6-1, senior, 8 ppg) are the best with Minnesota pedigrees. Freshman Nia Harris (Blake) will be a good one, maybe even in 2018. (The coaches rate them at #8.)
7. St. Mary’s 8-10 (7-11, 13-12, lost at St. Ben’s 60-55 in OT)
The Cardinals continue to regain their footing after losing all-world coach Mandy Pearson. They slipped to their worst record in 5 years last year but were this close, as the OT loss at St. Ben’s suggests. More to the point, they have one of the MIAC’s most versatile talents in Brandi Blattner (5-10, Dover-Eyota, junior, 14 ppg). The stat sheet isn’t clear as to whether she’s their primary ball handler but anyone who saw her in the state tournament in 2015 knows she ought to be. She is big and strong with decent handles and the ability to get herself and he ball upcourt like a freight train.
The starting team could easily go 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, 5-10, 5-10, but there are some holes to be filled, perhaps by 6-0 freshmen Abby Winter (Winona) and Michelle Remer (EGF Sacred Heart), or by the hoped-for improvement of 6-0 senior Brittney Flom (Kenyon, just 4 ppg last year). (The coaches have them #6.)
8. St. Catherine’s 7-11 (9-9, 15-11, lost at St. Ben’s 53-50 in MIAC playoff QF)
St. Kate’s has improved by leaps and bounds the past 5 years under Sean Pinkerton, who thereby earned a promotion out east. So now the program comes under the supervision of a familiar face, Don Mulhern, who implausibly led the University in the Middle of Nowhere (sometimes known as UW-Superior) to considerable success in recent years. If he can do it there, he can do it in St. Paul, MN, right?
The top returnees are point guard Audra Clark (5-7, senior, Kenyon, 15 ppg), 5-7 senior guard Alex Garcia (Hopkins, 9 ppg) and Danica Cambrice (5-10, sophomore, wing, St. Croix Lutheran, 7 ppg). There’s not much experience beyond that but freshmen Kassie Jenkins (6-2, post, Hudson, WI) and Megan Kuth (5-7, wing, Hutch) could fill some voids right away. (The coaches have them #7.)
9. Macalester 6-12 (5-13, 11-14, won at Hamline 66-52)
Here is yet another former doormat that has seen big improvement under coach Kelly Roysland and expects for that to continue this year. There is only room for so many resurrections, of course, and so for the Scots a resurrection will only get you 9th place this time around. Center Reagan Fruh (5-10, senior, Montana, 14 ppg) leads the way.
10. Concordia 5-13 (5-13, 8-17, lost to St. Thomas 70-61)
So, with Augsburg, St. Kate’s, Macalester and others on the upswing, who’s suffering? Concordia. They and St. Mary’s are the most recent team not named St. Thomas to win a conference title. In fact, they beat the Tommies on their home court to win the 2011 playoff title, then took the regular season title in 2012. Since then, slippage. The Cobbers main problem seems to be that Moorhead State is doing a vastly better job of picking off west central Minnesota’s best these past few years and so it’s Moorhead replacing Concordia as the top team in the Red River valley.
So, having gone 5-13 last year, is it a good thing that 4 juniors return, none of whom scored more than 7.5 ppg last year. I don’t know. I expect coach Jessica Rahman, who led the Cobbers to a national title as a player in 1988, to turn it around but I don’t think this is the year.
11. Hamline 3-15 (2-16, 5-20, lost to Macalester 66-52)
12. St. Olaf 2-16 (4-14, 8-17, lost to Augsburg 73-53)
New Hamline coach Alex Focke knows what down, looking up looks like. He’s got some pieces to make some improvements right away, though the MIAC coaches didn’t express much faith, putting the Pipers dead last. Point guard Alaina Quaranta (5-6, junior, Eau Claire, WI, 12 ppg) is Ms. Outside while Reilly Geistfeld, 5-10, sophomore, 9 ppg) is Ms. Inside, and a sophomore spurt is hoped for from Morgen Coleman (5-7, North Branch, 4 ppg).
St. Olaf has more bodies back than Hamline but it seems like they all averaged 2 ppg last year. The proven commodities are 6-0 junior wing Margaret Anderson (Totino-Grace) and 5-8 sophomore wing Ella Skrein (St. Croix Lutheran), with 16 ppg between them.
(The coaches have these 2 picks reversed.)
So, in the MIAC, the playoffs begin with #6 @ #3 and #5 @ #4, with the winners then traveling to #1 and #2. If there’s an upset lurking in there somewhere before the finals it might be Bethel @ Gustavus. But more likely would be an upset in the finals. Let’s say that Alison Hinck is 110 percent and that she and Mikayla Miller do a hand-and-glove routine. With Kaitlin Langer gone, Gustavus won’t be giving away too much inside. So I could see an upset at that point.
But, then they’ll both move on to the NCAA D3 tournament, and St. Thomas will get a game or 2 deeper into it than Gustavus because that’s what they do. I don’t think there’ll be a Final 4 this year, but next year I could see Spaulding, Renikoff, Madi Radtke and Kaia Porter do some damage. Just thinkin’ out loud.
This is of course our picks, and it includes Minnesota high school natives only.
Center—Hannah Johnson, Bethel, 6-1, junior, 12 ppg (Duluth East)
Power Forward—Miranda Rice, Gustavus, 6-0, junior, 16 ppg (Forest Lake)
Small Forward—Taite Anderson, Bethel, 5-10, sophomore, 12 ppg (White Bear)
Point Guard—Mikayla Miller, Gustavus, 5-9, senior, 17 ppg (Goodhue)
Shooting Guard—Brandi Blattner, St. Mary’s, 5-10, junior, 14 ppg (Dover-Eyota)
Center—Reilly Geistfeld, Hamline, 5-11, sophomore, 9 ppg
Power Forward—Nikki Fokken, St. Ben’s, 6-3, senior, 9 ppg (Pine Island)
Small Forward—Chelsey Guetter, St. Ben’s, 5-10, senior, 10 ppg (Wabasso)
Point Guard—Lucia Renikoff, St. Thomas, 5-9, junior, 9 ppg (Mpls. Washburn)
Shooting Guard—Kaezha Wubben, Augsburg, 5-7, sophomore, 11 ppg (Hopkins)
Center—Hannah Spaulding, St. Thomas, 6-2, junior, 7 ppg (Annandale)
Power Forward—Camryn Speese, Augsburg, 5-9, sophomore, 9 ppg (DeLaSalle)
Small Forward—Ann Hamilton, Carleton, 6-1, senior, 8 ppg (Minnetonka)
Point Guard—Tamira McLemore, Augsburg, 5-8, sophomore, 14 ppg (Eagan)
Shooting Guard—Justine Lee, Gustavus, 5-7, junior, 8 ppg (Dawson-Boyd)
Returning players with the most upside.
Center—Kate Banovetz, St. Ben’s, 6-0, senior, 6.5 ppg (Holy Angels)
Power Forward—Brittney Flom, St. Mary’s, 6-0, senior, 4 ppg (Kenyon)
Small Forward—Danica Cambrice, St. Kate’s, 5-7, sophomore, 7 ppg (St. Croix Lutheran)
Point Guard—Audra Clark, St. Kate’s, 5-7, senior, 15 ppg (Kenyon)
Shooting Guard—Kirsten Keefe, St. Mary, 5-7, junior, 4 ppg (Chatfield)
Plus other newcomers.
Center—Abby Winter, St. Mary’s, 6-0 (Winona)
Forward—Madi Radtke, St. Thomas, 5-9 (Lester Prairie)
Point Guard—Alison Hinck, Gustavus, 5-8 (White Bear)
Combo Guard—Sophie Koeppl, St. Ben’s, 5-9 (Providence)
Shooting Guard—Kaia Porter, St. Thomas, 5-9 (Roseville)
Center—Laura Bonin, Bethel, 6-1 (Lakeview Christian)
Forward—Elizabeth Schwartz, Bethel, 5-9 (Southwest Christian)
Point Guard—Macy Hatlestadt, St. Thomas, 5-6 (Alexandria)
Combo Guard—Danielle Williams, Bethel, 5-7 (Zimmerman)
Combo Guard—Nia Harris, Carleton, 5-7 (Blake)