The UW-River Falls men’s basketball team is looking to rebound this season after a disappointing 2012-13 campaign.
After qualifying for the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons, the team limped to an 8-17 overall record a year ago. Despite that record, as well as losing four of five starters from last year’s team, senior forward Ben Gressmer and Head Coach Jeff Berkhof both said the team’s goal is to return to the tournament.
“One of our main goals is to get back to the NCAA tournament. Hopefully we’ll have more success than we have in the past,” Gressmer said. “Getting past the first round is our main focus this year.”
The Falcons’ schedule is filled with plenty of hurdles to get back to the tournament. The team opens the season at the Lee Pfund Classic, hosted by Wheaton College, on Friday, Nov. 15. The Falcons will play their first game against Wittenburg University and, depending on the results of the games, will play either Blackburn College or nationally ranked No. 5 Wheaton College the next day.
The Falcons will also take the court against the University of St. Thomas, currently ranked No. 15, according to the NCAA, as a part of their non-conference schedule.
When the team turns toward WIAC play, it will have two matchups apiece with No. 13, UW-Whitewater and No. 4, UW-Stevens Point.
While there are some high profile games on the schedule, Gressmer said the team is not looking ahead to any one game in particular.
“We’ll take it one game at a time, that’s how we look at things. One game at a time, one practice at a time,” Gressmer said.
The Falcons will also begin the season by playing six of seven games on the road, including the potential matchup with Wheaton. The lone home game in that stretch will be the tilt against St. Thomas.
While Gressmer and Berkhof said that returning to the NCAA tournament is an obtainable goal, the preseason WIAC poll does not agree. The poll, voted on by conference coaches and sports information directors, picks UWRF to finish in seventh place in the WIAC, only ahead of UW-Eau Claire and UW-Oshkosh.
A key to the Falcons’ success this season will be the return of forward Ollie White. Last season White was injured only nine games into the season, but the 2012 All-WIAC Honorable Mention player is ready to go for this season.
“Having Ollie White back this year is important because he provides for us a proven scorer inside with his back to the basket, and he is also an effective scorer on the perimeter as well,” Berkhof said.
Including White and Gressmer, the team features five seniors, according to the team’s website.
“We need our seniors to play well and provide leadership. Our newcomers are going to have be ready to go and we are confident that they will be.” Berkhof said.
Gressmer added that there are some younger players that will step up for the team as well this season, one in particular.
“We have a point guard from Lakeville North named Grant Erickson. He has been stepping up pretty big in our early on scrimmages and practices,” Gressmer said. “He impacts us and gets us in the right places, which will be huge for our success on the floor.”
Berkhof will be aiming for a milestone this season as well. With 13 wins, Berkhof, in his eighth season at UWRF, would win his 100th game as a head coach.
The Falcons first home game will be on Saturday, Nov. 23, against St. Thomas.