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Falcon men’s basketball season begins

November 13, 2008

The UW-River Falls men’s basketball team is gearing up for a new season, which begins Nov. 18 against St. Scholastica.

Last year, the Falcons finished with a 9-16 overall record, but went just 3-13 against WIAC opponents. This is a result that Head Coach Jeff Berkhof said he hopes to improve on this season.

“We came off an OK season in ‘07, and we definitely did not meet last year’s expectations,” he said. “We lost five conference games by six points or less. Even though we lost, we showed that we could compete with the best.”

Guard Aaron Elling and forward Steve Farmer are the only two seniors returning this fall. Elling was named the WIAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008. Other returning players include sophomores Brady Hannigan and Jontae Koonkaew. In addition to being named Newcomer of the Year in 2008, Hannigan also made the WIAC Honor Roll.

Koonkaew, a guard from Apple Valley, Minn., was one of the team’s leading scorers in 2006-07, averaging 13.2 points per game. Koonkaew sat out last season due to injury, and Berkhof said that his return will provide a boost to the team.

Several members will need to step up, as the team lost one of its biggest contributors in forward Nate Robertson, who now attends Bethel University. Robertson averaged 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during his two-year career as a Falcon.

“Nate decided River Falls just wasn’t for him,” Berkhof said, and who wished Robertson well in all areas of his life. “It wasn’t because of basketball or academics, it is just something that happens at our level sometimes.”

Berkhof added that it is not necessarily a setback. 

“We have [players] who have been itching for the opportunity to step in and play,” he said.

The team will begin its season with eight new recruits on the roster. Although they may be important factors in the team’s future, the coaching staff expects many new players to contribute right away. 

Newcomers Aaron Anderson, Spencer Shelman and Colin Utke were mentioned specifically as players who will be expected to lead by example from day one.

“We’ll get better as time comes”î freshman guard Michael Adams said.  “For now, I just have to work hard and try to learn the system.”

When asked what the biggest adjustment he had to make transitioning from high school to college ball, Adams answered without hesitation: “Pace,” he said. “College ball is much faster.” 

Just like any other year, the team’s ultimate goal is qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. The Falcons were WIAC Champions as recently as 2004.

Berkhof added that he hopes to see students packing the stands to support Falcon basketball this season. 

“Home court can be an important advantage,” he said. “I hope people come out to the games and try to make a big difference.”