By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Another season of Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference basketball is winding down, with the elite teams setting their sights on deep playoff runs and other teams scrambling to survive.
The Minnesota State men won the Northern Sun championship and South Division title, while St. Cloud State took the North championship. Concordia-St. Paul was the Northern Sun women’s winner, with St. Cloud State claiming the North crown.
The individual awards are due out soon, and the competition for those performances is just as close as the chase for team trophies. Here’s one opinion on the most worthy players in this league.
In men’s basketball, Winona State’s senior center Clayton Vette is the player of the year, in a close decision over guard Cam McCaffrey, who set Augustana’s career scoring record Wednesday. Vette is as close to unguardable as the league has, with a nice combination of strength and touch.
He averaged 21.1 points in league games, scoring one more point than McCaffrey, despite 24 fewer attempts. Vette also tied for third at 8.0 rebounds per game and shot 59.6 percent from the field.
The coach of the year has to be Upper Iowa’s Brian Dolan. HE MADE UPPER IOWA BASKETBALL RELEVANT!!!
Minnesota State’s Matt Margenthaler deserves some credit for the quick bounceback of his program and a conference championship, but still, Dolan MADE UPPER IOWA BASKETBALL RELEVANT!!!
Minnesota State sophomore Zach Monaghan seems deserving of the newcomer award. He led the conference in assists (5.82) and steals (2.64), and he’s the catalyst for the Mavericks. If he is hitting his shots, especially 3-pointers, Minnesota State is very tough to beat.
The top freshman this season has been Augustana’s Daniel Jensen, who is averaging 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds, shooting 52.2 percent from the field.
The top defender should be Minnesota State-Moorhead’s Alex Novak, who will be here Saturday. The 6-foot-9 Novak had 36 blocked shots in 22 league games, and averaged 9.9 rebounds with 6.2 defensive rebounds.
The first five on the all-conference team should be Vette, McCaffrey, Jarvis Williams of Minnesota State, Collin Pryor of Northern State and Terez Van Pelt of Concordia-St. Paul.
For the women, Concordia-St. Paul’s Paul Fessler should be the coach of the year. There weren’t high expectations for the Bears, picked seventh in the preseason coaches poll, but 13 straight victories have pushed that team to the top of the conference.
Minnesota State’s Emilee Thiesse deserves some consideration, given that she was hired just a month or so before practice began last fall. She has the Mavericks in the top 20 in national polls.
The player of the year is another tough one. Carly Boag of Minot State led the conference in scoring (18.6 points) and rebounding (12.3), but it’s tough to overlook the performance of Ali Wilkinson of Minnesota State. The Mavericks’ junior, returning from a serious knee injury, ranked fourth in the conference for scoring (17.5 points), seventh in rebounding (7.8), fourth in field-goal shooting (55.2 percent) and fifth in free-throw shooting (85.4 percent).
Wilkinson played on a better team, playing fewer minutes with more offensive options, but you can’t ignore that Boag averaged a double-double. Boag in a close vote.
Defensive player of the year goes to Shaunna Knife of Mary, who led the league in blocked shots (2.6) and was sixth in rebounding (8.3)..
The top freshman could be Upper Iowa’s Carly Pagel, who ranked 19th in scoring (12.5 points), 13th in rebounding (7.2) and ninth in field-goal shooting (48.3 percent). I saw Southwest Minnesota State’s Mikayla Saathoff late in the season, and she looks like she has a bright future.
The all-conference top five should go to Boag, Wilkinson, Annika Whiting of Concordia-St. Paul, Whitney Kieffer of Upper Iowa and Alex Feeney of Augustana.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his local sports blog or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.