Almost two years ago Dennis Eastman reclaimed the reigns of the Central Lakes College women's basketball program.
It happened several games into the season after a year and a half sabbatical and he led the Raiders to an improbable national tournament run followed by another successful campaign in 2008-09.
Head coach: Dennis Eastman, 17th season
CLC career record: 209-198 (.514)
2008-09 season: 11-3 Northern Division, 17-9 overall
Volunteer assistants: Pam Eastman, Megan Eastman
Nov. 10, Ridgewater at Willmar 6 p.m.
Nov. 13-14, at Madison (Wis.) Fall Classic
Nov. 20-21, Central Lakes Classic
Nov. 27, at Anoka-Ramsey 5 p.m.
Dec. 4, Riverland at Austin, 6 p.m.
Dec. 5, at Rochester 1 p.m.
Dec. 11, St. Cloud Technical 6 p.m.
Dec. 12, Fergus Falls 1 p.m.
Dec. 18-19, Central Lakes Winter Classic
Jan 6, Itasca 6 p.m.
Jan 9, Mesabi Range at Virginia 1 p.m.
Jan 15, Rainy River 6 p.m.
Jan 16, Hibbing 1 p.m.
Jan 20, Northland 6 p.m.
Jan 23, Vermilion 1 p.m.
Jan 27, Fond Du Lac 6 p.m.
Jan 30, at Hibbing 1 p.m. Feb. 5, Mesabi 6 p.m.
Feb. 6, Vermilion 1 p.m.
Feb. 10, Northland at Thief River Falls 6 p.m.
Feb. 13, Rainy River at International Falls 1 p.m.
Feb. 17, Fond Du Lac at Cloquet 6 p.m. Feb. 20, Itasca at Grand Rapids 1 p.m.
Feb. 26-28, MCAC state tournament
March 5-6, Region 13 tournament
March 12-13, NJCAA D-lll tournament, Rochester
Coming into the 2009-10 season, the Raiders will have just three returning players remaining from last season's squad.
The result will be an expanded role for the team's three sophomores, led by last season's second-team all-state player Stephanie Neugebauer in addition to post Cassie Pearson and guard Carissa Utsch.
Stephanie Neugebauer (front) is one of three sophomores returning for the Central Lakes College women's basketball team this season. Brainerd Dispatch
"You rely on your sophomores going into a new season," Eastman said. "They have been through it before and know what to expect. They take on the leadership role and are there to help the freshmen see what needs to be done to get where they want to be."
Unfortunately for the Raiders, they will be without Neugebauer for at least the first month of the season with a knee injury.
"Stephanie has what, for now, I am just going to call a knee injury," Eastman said. "We don't really know anything yet, but she will be going in for an MRI and an ultrasound over the next few days to see what is wrong with it. We are thinking she will be gone for the first month, but you don't know with knee injuries.
"It hurts losing her for the early games because she is one of the top players in the state, but at the same time, down the road, it might actually help us out. It will give the two other sophomores and the freshmen a chance to step up.
"Early on, if things started to go wrong (the players) just kind of looked for Stephanie. Now they will have to find ways to get their own shots. It will also give the freshmen a chance to mature a lot faster than they might have and they will need to contribute sooner than they might have expected."
One strength Central Lakes will have is a height advantage.
"Our inside play will be strong," Eastman said. "Five of the eight girls on the team are 5-10 or taller and they all have inside experience. We will change our offense a little this year. Over the last couple seasons we have ran more of a fast-break offense. This year we are going to look to slow it down a little bit, move the ball around and try to create mismatches and get the ball inside."
CLC adds five freshmen: Brittany Gravelle (Mound Westonka), Trisha Wippler (Little Falls), Carlee Davich (Little Falls), Alicia Johnson (Verndale) and Kaitlyn Kavanaugh (Pillager), all of whom Eastman expects to contribute early.
"Every year it seems like the freshmen come in and think there isn't a big difference between high school and community college basketball, and there is," Eastman said. "It is a much faster game and much more physical. We just participated in a preseason scrimmage and I think it was a real eye-opener for the freshmen. I think they saw for the first time where the competition level is at and where they need to be to contribute."
If there are any questions about where the competitive bar is set for this Raiders team after the preseason, they will soon be answered as Central Lakes plays a number of nationally ranked teams in the first weeks of the season.
Despite Neugebauer's injury and his team's inexperience, Eastman has high hopes for his young team.
"I think the goal every year is to get to state and that is no different this season," he said. "That means we have to be the top four in the division, which we have done the last two seasons and I think we have a good chance of returning. After that anything can happen and you just want to be playing the best basketball of the year at the end of the season."
Stephanie Neugebauer (Brainerd)
Cassie Pearson (Staples-Motley)
Carissa Utsch (Paynesville)
Brittany Gravelle (Mound Westonka)
Trisha Wippler (Little Falls)
Carlee Davich (Little Falls)
Alicia Johnson (Verndale)
Kaitlyn Kavanaugh (Pillager)
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