By Chad Courrier
---- — MANKATO — The Minnesota State women's basketball team was playing its best at the end of last season.
The Mavericks won the last 11 regular-season games and won twice before losing to Augustana at the Northern Sun Intercolleguate Conference tournament, earning a berth in the regional.
At Topeka, Kan., the Mavericks won their quarterfinal game against Arkansas Tech before losing 69-67 to Emporia State in the semifinals, a couple painful steps short of the national quarterfinals. So the offseason provided a chance for the players to refelct on what they accomplished and what they can do better to advance to the next level.
"We all stayed connected all summer and worked hard to get better," senior Ali Wilkinson said. "We learned that we're close, but close doesn't win games."
The Mavericks held their first practice Tuesday at Bresnan Arena. A year ago, there was a lot of uncertainty in the program as new coach Emilee Thiesse was hired a short time before the season began, implementing an up-tempo fast-paced attack that figured to have an adjustment period.
"I don't think anybody was satisified with what we accomplished last year," Thiesse said. "We got so close, and we were playing so well, but we need to do more to get to the next level. We want to be a championship program, but we have a lot to prove."
Wilkinson had an All-American season, averaging 17.3 points and 7.9 rebounds as she recovered from knee surgery they year before. Aubrey Davis and Karlee Gengenbacher were both double-digit scorers, and Jamie Bresnahan played well despite being bothered by a knee injury in the final month of the season.
Ali Hoefer also started all 32 games, and Ashley Olson and Anna Leloux were vaulable reserves. The Mavericks added some nice with freshmen and transfers, but the team still expects to play faster in the open court. Minnesota State averaged more than 76 points per game.
"I think the one thing we learned is you have to be able to defend in the big games," Thiesse said. "Hopefully, we'll make improvement on the defensive end."
The Mavericks will be one of the favorites to win the Northern Sun, and if that happens, there will be a good seed in the regional. The Mavericks were 15-0 at home last season, which could be an important factor in making a further run in the postseason.
"I'm so excited for the season to start," Wilkinson said. "This is an amazing group of girls, and we all have the same mindset. I think we needed that experience last year to give us the extra boost we need this year."