Entering the 2011-12 season, the Gustavus women’s basketball team will rely on its experienced group of veterans to make a return trip to the MIAC Playoffs. Head coach Mickey Haller returns 15 letterwinners, including four starters, from last year’s squad that posted a 17-10 overall record and a fourth place finish in the MIAC with a mark of 15-7. The Gusties will be led by their four senior captains – guards Molly Geske (Mendota Heights, Minn.), Ava Perry (Wabasha, Minn.), Colleen Ruane (Edina, Minn.) and Liz Shay (Minneapolis, Minn.).
“Our four seniors are good leaders,” Haller said. “They’ve been in our program long enough and each one of them brings in a different element to that leadership role. We always look for that out of our seniors and we are very fortunate to have those four back.”
In the front court, Coach Haller will need to replace Molly Mathiowetz, an All-Conference forward who led the team in field goal percentage, rebounds and was the second-leading scorer last year. But the Gusties’ deep and experienced roster opens the door for other players to step up and make an impact.
“Molly is going to be very hard to replace,” Haller acknowledged. “But we feel that Abby Rothenbuehler is ready to take on that role. She has played quite a few minutes for us in the past. And Amanda Iverson is also going to step in. Those are the two that we see filling the five-spot. If we run into foul trouble or we have injuries, which might happen, Eli Benz is a great four. She could certainly slip in at the five-spot in we needed her to.”
Junior Abby Rothenbuehler, the Gusties’ tallest player at 6-2, averaged 7.1 points per game last season and saw playing time in all 27 games. The North Mankato, Minn. native was second on the team in rebounding (5.1 rebounds per game) and posted a team-high 34 blocks. Junior Amanda Iverson, who will back up Rothenbuehler, saw limited action last year playing in eight games. And Eli Benz, a 5-11 sophomore forward, registered 19 blocks and 49 assists – both second best for Gustavus last year – during her first season wearing the black and gold. The Steele, N.D. native also earned a spot on the MIAC All-First Year Team.
On the perimeter, Gustavus will lean on the consistent production of returning starting guards Molly Geske and Colleen Ruane. Geske, a two-time MIAC All-Conference member and the team’s Most Valuable Player last year, played in and started all 27 games last season, led the team in points per game (14.3) and led all of Division III in free throw percentage (.902, 83-92). The Cretin-Derham Hall product also posted a .426 field goal percentage (133-312), .385 three-point percentage (37-96), 111 rebounds, 48 steals and 39 assists. Ruane, a member of the MIAC All-Defensive Team and Gustavus Defensive Player of the Year last season, led the team in assists with 72 and topped the conference with 70 steals a year ago. The 5-7 guard also ranked third on the team in scoring (7.8 points per game) and shot .761 (54-71) from the charity stripe on a team that led the league in free throw shooting percentage. The Gusties .776 conversion rate from the free throw line also set the program record.
“The free throws we work on everyday and we also had the luxury of Molly Geske who led the nation in free throw percentage. So that helps a lot,” Haller stated. “But we had Colleen Ruane, who her sophomore year was shooting about 40 percent from the free throw line and ended up shooting nearly 80 percent her junior year. So again, that’s one thing that we all know if you don’t make that shot, it’s just a giveaway. I plan on seeing us increase our free throw percentage.”
Joining Geske and Ruane as returning starters includes senior Ava Perry and junior Kelsey Florian. Perry looks to remain a threat from behind the arc and at the line after posting a .891 (41-46) free throw percentage and converting 30-of-89 (.337) three-pointers last year. Florian, a Roseville, Minn. native, collected 93 rebounds, 42 assists and averaged 6.5 point per game during her second season for the Gusties.
The Gusties typically play a fast-paced style of game and generate turnovers to beat their opponents. Last season, Gustavus led the conference in turnover margin (+3.85), a direct result of their league-leading 294 steals (10.89 per game).
“We constantly beat into our heads that we need to take care of the ball and I think they did a good job of that last year,” Haller said. “The steals, those tend to come and go. The type of defense that we play you’ll also notice that we were at the bottom of the conference in rebounding, that’s because of the way we play our defense. Our defense tends to lend more towards the steal, fast break kind of thing, and we’ll probably continue to do things like that.”
Gustavus has made the MIAC Playoffs the previous three seasons, yet failed to make the NCAA Tournament. The Gusties’ last NCAA Tournament berth came in the 2007-08 campaign and after a three-year hiatus, the Black and Gold are determined to reach the conference tourney again and beyond.
Said Haller, “Our number one goal is to be in playoffs again this year and see where we can go from there.”
The Gusties open the 2011-12 campaign second on the MIAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll and their first game is Tuesday, Nov. 15 at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Tip off is slated for 7:00 p.m.
MIAC Women’s Basketball
Preseason Coaches’ Poll
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