It was a rude welcome for the Central Lakes College Raiders last season.
CLC finished 1-11 in its first season in the Southern Division of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference. Any hope of improving on that will rely on this year’s team finding an offensive identity.
Helping in that discovery will be the return of guards Nikki Pearson, Lindsay Roos and Betsy Helmeke. That trio, along with forwards Kelsey Wheeler and Elizabeth Mattson, return from a Raiders squad that finished 8-19 overall or 8-9 out of their division.
“We have Lindsay back from an injury and that’s going to help us out,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Eastman. “She injured her knee last year and played with a torn ACL. Betsy has worked on her game a lot and Nikki continues to grow and get better as a player. We are looking for good things from those people.”
Pearson was fourth in the South with 3.72 assists per game and was sixth with 2.48 steals. Those numbers, along with everyone’s scoring, will need to increase with the graduation of Stephanie Neugebauer. Last year Neugebauer led the Raiders with 16.84 points, 7.32 rebounds, and 2.6 steals a game.
“Elizabeth has really improved and both her and Kelsey have been working a lot with new assistant coach Jay Bock on their inside moves,” Eastman said. “Their fundamentals are really sharpening up.”
The Raiders will supplement the sophomores with five freshmen. Area girls basketball fans will recognize most as Brainerd’s Jalynn Lamb, Pierz’s Emily Weber, Verndale’s Elizabeth Johnson and Aitkin’s Lena Montano are on the roster along with Milaca’s Kara Krotzer.
“One thing about this group is they work hard,” said Eastman. “They come in the gym and they have fun, but when it’s time to work they get their nose right in there. That’s nice to see. They want to get better every day. They are improving and the biggest thing is just getting used to the speed of the game. They are adapting very well.”
Eastman said the biggest hurdle for the Raiders will be their lack of height. That, and the perennial favorite Anoka-Ramsey, which won the South with a 12-0 division record and compiled a 26-1 final regular-season mark.
“We’re still determining what type of team we’re going to be,” said Eastman. “We’re trying some different things, like running more and trying a more controlled offense. We’re still looking for the right combination.
“We’d like to push the ball up the court and having experienced guards will help us do that. A lot of it will depend on our shooting. We have a lot of good ballhandlers, which is good. We’ll just have to wait and sort things out. After our game Tuesday we’ll have a better idea of what our strengths are.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.