By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
With St. Cloud State now in the South Division of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, meaning that Minnesota State will face its old rival only once per season, games against Winona State have come to be the marquee of the regular season.
“It’s a big game every time,” Mavericks coach Matt Margenthaler said. “In football and other sports, (Winona State) has turned into that school. It’s a healthy rivalry for both universities.”
The Mavericks (5-0, 1-0 in conference) begin a Northern Sun home doubleheader with the Warriors tonight — the women’s game begins at 6 p.m. and the men are scheduled for 8 p.m. Minnesota State hosts Upper Iowa on Saturday, with start times of 6 and 8 p.m. at Bresnan Arena.
“Every weekend is big, especially at home,” Margenthaler said. “We need to get off to a good start in the league.”
Winona State (6-2, 0-1 in Northern Sun) was selected as the preseason favorite to win the conference by the league’s coaches, led by senior center Clayton Vette, the preseason South Division player of the year. Vette has averaged 18.7 points and 8.4 rebounds so far.
“He’s one of the best players in Division II,” said Margenthaler, who is 8-10 in his career against Winona State. “He’s a man down low, and he controls the lane. We need to make him work and stay out of foul trouble.”
Margenthaler said that Upper Iowa (3-2, 1-0), which hasn’t beaten the Mavericks in the 12-game series, is a tough team to defend. It’s a senior-dominated group that runs a high-post offense that few other programs use in this league. Tucker Wentzien, who hit the game-winning layup in a victory over Winona State last week, leads the Peacocks with 14.0 points per game.
“They play a different style that we don’t see very often,” Margenthaler said. “They always have five shooters on the court; they’re a good basketball team.”
The Mavericks lead the conference in scoring at 85.8 points per game, more than four points higher than any other team, and all five starters average at least 10 points. Zach Monaghan leads the team with 13.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Minnesota State is plus-15.6 in rebounding, with Jarvis Williams averaging 7.2 boards and Connor O’Brien at 6.2.
“I really like this team,” Margenthaler said. “What’s exciting is that we have a chance to get better. We’ve played good basketball, not great.”
As of Thursday morning, Mavericks’ coach Emilee Thiesse wasn’t sure if she’d be on the bench for games against Winona State at 6 p.m. today and Upper Iowa at 6 p.m. Saturday. She just delivered a daughter early Monday, and assistant coaches Amy Sander and Jessica Keller might be running the show.
The Mavericks (4-0, 1-0) have lost three of the last four games against Winona State (7-1, 1-0) but are 10-0 against the Peacocks (3-4, 0-1). Senior guard Becca Friestleben leads Winona State with 17.5 points. Whitney Kieffer is averaging 18.7 points for Upper Iowa.
Ali Wilkinson has 19 double-doubles in her career. She’s averaging 16.0 points and 8.8 rebounds. Guard Alli Hoefer had 10 assists in a victory over Gustavus. She’s the only player on the roster that’s had a 10-assist game.
The Gusties women have won four straight, with two of the victories coming by three points.
Abby Rothenbuehler, who is averaging 13.4 points and 9.0 rebounds, has been the team’s top scorer in three games and top rebounder in all seven games. Julia Dysthe is averaging 12.9 points, while Kelsey Florian has been to the free-throw line 46 times in seven games, making 31.
The men’s team (2-4, 1-3) has lost four of the last five games, with three of the losses by four or fewer points.
The Gusties have outscored opponents by seven points. Jim Hill is averaging 17.0 points, with Ben Biewen next at 16.0 points. Martin Fedderson has 14 steals.
The men’s team (2-4) plays a nonconference game against Central College at Pella, Iowa, on Saturday. The Vikings have struggled with shooting, going 42.7 percent from the field and 34.0 percent on 3-pointers. Gavin Kroehler is averaging 11.5 points, with Alex Weldon at 10.3 points.
The women’s team (1-4) also plays at Central on Saturday. Jade Pelzl is averaging 15.2 points, shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Shelby Wiederhoeft is averaging 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds. Aimie Wiechmann has made 5 of 11 from 3-point range.