MANKATO — With two games remaining in the regular season, both the Minnesota State men’s and women’s basketball teams have a chance to win Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championships.
While that might not mean as much as it once did, replaced by national-tournament goals, the conference title does mean that you’ve had the best season among your peers.
“One of our goals every year is to win a conference championship,” Mavericks coach Matt Margenthaler said. “It’s very important. We’ve won conference championships seven of the last eight seasons, which I think is remarkable from a consistency factor. We have bigger goals, like an opportunity to host a regional, but a conference championship is something you play for.”
The men’s team (23-4, 17-3 in Northern Sun) is tied for first with Winona State (22-5, 17-3) heading into the final weekend of Northern Sun regular-season games. Winona State holds the tiebreaker for the top seed in the conference tournament, but the regular-season championship is shared between teams that are tied.
The Mavericks play tonight at Sioux Falls (14-10, 11-9) and Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State (16-10, 13-7), while Winona State hosts Wayne State (8-16, 5-15) and Augustana (1-12, 11-9). The Mavericks defeated Sioux Falls 109-64 and Southwest Minnesota State 77-68 two weeks ago.
“I don’t like the conference schedule at all,” Margenthaler said. “Playing the same teams so close together makes it easier to prepare, but I don’t think it’s right.
Sioux Falls is 10-2 on its home court, while Southwest Minnesota State is ranked 10th in the Central Region, needing victories to move up to consideration for the NCAA tournament.
The women’s team (19-5, 16-4) trails Wayne State (24-3, 17-3) by a game in the conference race. The Mavericks play at Sioux Falls (12-12, 8-12) tonight and at Southwest Minnesota State (4-20, 2-18) on Saturday. The Mavericks swept both games two weeks ago at Bresnan Arena.
“Our goal is to be a championship team,” coach Emilee Thiesse said. “Last year, everyone talked about how we had a successful season. We were pleased with what we accomplished, but we want to win championships and we don’t have any trophies to show for it.”
The last time Minnesota State won a conference championship was 2009.
Gengenbacher on roll
Minnesota State senior Karlee Gengenbacher is finishing the season strong, averaging 17.3 points over the last six games. She’s raised her scoring average to 11.7 points, second-highest on the team. She’s shooting 49.3 percent from the field, 30.9 percent from 3-point range and 72.9 percent at the free-throw line.
“I’ve really been on the upperclassmen to show what it takes at the end of the season, not just talk about it,” Thiesse said. “Every day, she practices with intensity, and that translates into the games. She’s a senior who wants her career to last a little longer.”
Senior Ali Wilkinson leads the team with 17.0 points and 8.0 rebounds, and combined with Gengenbacher, provide the inside presence to open the perimeter.
“Sometimes, we concentrate too much on our outside shooting,” Thiesse said. “Karlee is one of the players that recognizes that we need points in the paint, and she’s trying to be aggressive going to the basket and get out running and getting to the foul line.”
The Gusties (16-9, 13-7 in MIAC) finished the regular season Wednesday with a home loss to conference-champion St. Thomas that ended a four-game winning streak. Gustavus will begin play in the MIAC tournament on Wednesday. The pairings will be determined after Saturday’s games, and it’s possible that the Gusties will have a home game.
Brody Ziegler, Jordan Dick, Brian Jacobs and Martin Fedderson have started all 25 games, averaging at least 8 points and shooting better than 52 percent from the field.
Gustavus (13-11, 10-11) has lost three straight heading into the regular-season finale Saturday at St. Catherine. A victory would clinch a spot in the MIAC tournament.
Karina Schroeder leads the team with 14.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, with a team-high 45 blocked shots. She’s the only Gustavus regular to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, and her 40 steals is third best on the team.
The Vikings (7-16, 6-6 in UMAC) are tied for the fourth in the UMAC heading into the final weekend, and the top four qualify for the conference tournament. Bethany hosts Minnesota Morris on Friday and Crown on Saturday, having won three straight games at home.
Jacob Wensmann needs seven points to reach 400 for the season and 17 rebounds to get to 200. He’s averaging 17.1 points and 8.0 rebounds. Luke Roddy, Chris Scarver and Trent Kuechenmeister each have made 30 or more 3-pointers.
The Vikings (8-15, 5-7) will end the season with home games against Minnesota Morris on Friday and Crown on Saturday. Bethany is 3-6 at the Sports & Fitness Center.
Bethany has scored 763 points in the first half of games and 841 points in the second halves. The Vikings are outrebounding opponents by 3.0 per game. Kasslin Swenson (11.5), Lacey Ellinghuysen (6.2) and Angie Scheffler (6.1) are each averaging more than six rebounds per game.