UWRF women ready to hit courtFresh off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 17 years, the UW-River Falls women’s basketball team returns 12 letter winners and one starter from a year ago.
By: Brian Francis, Correspondent , River Falls Journal
Fresh off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 17 years, the UW-River Falls women’s basketball team returns 12 letter winners and one starter from a year ago.
The one returning starter, Brittany Gregorich, has been in the starting lineup each of the last 62 games, amassing 212 career assists, 105 steals and a 73.5 free throw percentage through her first three seasons. Only four players in the WIAC have more experience than Gregorich.
“Brittany is such a great leader and exceptional teammate,” Falcon coach Cindy Holbrook said. “She genuinely cares about people on our team and would do anything for them; that makes people willing to follow her. She's incredibly versatile and I can plug her into any position we need and she will have an impact. She's definitely one of our best passers and rebounders and one of our most competitive kids. I can't believe she's already a senior.”
Last year the Falcons led the WIAC with a rebounding margin of plus-11 per game, seventh in the nation. Gregorich is the top returning rebounder with a 5.6 average, followed by senior Nikki Guhr at 2.9. Holly Riesselman is the only other Falcon senior.
“Obviously Gregorich is huge for us,” Holbrook said. “Riesselman is much improved in the post and she'll be able to contribute this year. Guhr is a key for us at the wing and Tess Lueders should step into a big scoring and rebounding role for us.”
Holbrook said she’s also expecting good things from Jamie Kenealy and Jessie Van Wyhe.
“Jamie Kenealy has improved so much in a year its fun to see her developing into a very good forward,” the coach said. “And Jessie Van Wyhe is doing a nice job at the point for us. Lots of players could make a difference this year.”
The Falcons open up the 2012-13 season this weekend at the St. Norbert Tournament, followed by seven-of-nine games at home. Few teams have fared better than the Falcons at home over the last four years as they have compiled a 37-10 record at Karges Center since 2009, including 24-10 in WIAC contests.
Holbrook has 174 wins as Falcon coach, the most in the program’s history, and expects another strong season.
“We're working hard right now on fundamental development that'll carry over into everything we do all year,” she said. “Our players have been focused and competing in practice. If we continue to see that and get more individual emphasis on creating good habits with the details of the game, we should have a really fun season. So I expect to have a great year. It'll be different because we're much younger than a year ago, but it could be a great season.”
The Falcons have been hot out of the gates each of the last four seasons, putting together a 17-2 record in the month of November.
Conference play opens Dec. 1, with the Falcons hosting their first three WIAC contests. The WIAC remains one of the toughest leagues in the nation, placing four teams in the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
“The WIAC is hands down one of the toughest DIII leagues in the country,” Holbrook said. “We don't play a single game that we can go into anticipating the outcome. We really need to be prepared and play our best game every time we play. That's why competitive kids come to play in the WIAC, you really find out what you're made of when you compete against the best every game.”
Despite losing four starters from a year ago, Holbrook said the Falcons will rely on a few newcomers to step in and make an immediate impact.
“I really like our freshman class,” she said. “Brooke Lauritzen will be huge for us in the post. She's athletic, smart, competitive, and 6-2. That's a great combination.”
Holbrook said a pair of freshmen from Spring Grove, Minn. -- Taylor Elton at the point guard position, and Richell Mehus at the wing -- will be critical to the Falcons’ success.
“They're strong and basketball savvy for freshmen,” Holbrook said. “Both can score and defend. Emily Larson will help us at the wing and Hannah Piper will grow into an impact post for us.”
Each of the past four seasons, Holbrook has guided the Falcons to a winning record, as well as a berth in the NCAA Tournament last year.