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Men’s basketball evens out record with back-to-back wins

December 4, 2008

After a rough start, the UW-River Falls men’s basketball team evened its record to 3-3 with back-to-back wins over Sioux Falls and Viterbo as they head into their conference schedule Saturday against UW-Oshkosh.

“I think we all know we maybe should have won another game or two in there, but we are what we are,” Head Coach Jeff Berkhof said. “Winning tonight gives us some good confidence going into [Saturday].”

The Falcons, who lost their top four scorers from last year’s 9-16 team, have to replace 37 points per game. But according to Berkhof, the real challenge for his young team is on the other side of the ball.

“We have some new players that are picking up some of those points, like a Wade Guerin or Jake Voeltz who both played limited minutes last year,” Berkhof said. “You only play five guys, scoring hasn’t been a problem for us in the past, it’s being able to defend.”

Forwards Guerin and Voeltz led the Falcons in their win against Viterbo Wednesday night by scoring 15 points each. Guerin, who led the Falcons with nine rebounds Wednesday, and Voeltz are two of the 12 underclassmen on the team.

Voeltz is one of three sophomore captains, along with guards Brady Hannigan and Jontae Koonkaew, who join senior guard Jesse Elling as the team’s leaders. The transition from incoming freshman to team leader is a big step, but one that instills confidence in the captains and the team.

“It’s different,” Hannigan said. “It gives you a lot more confidence that your teammates have confidence in you to vote you as a captain. It makes it almost easier, because you know you have the confidence of your teammates.”

Now after winning two straight contests to post a .500 non-conference record, the relatively inexperienced Falcons, who are “still feeling each other out” according to Hannigan, venture into one of the toughest conferences in Division III basketball. The WIAC currently contains three of the top seven teams in the nation according to D3hoops.com, presenting an unforgiving road for a young team trying to establish its identity.

“This is a new group, and they have to learn how to win together,” Berkhof said. “I’m not sure that we knew how to do that those first two games, but we came back against Sioux Falls and did do that, so I hope that carries over to the rest of the season.”

The Falcons will have a good idea how they match up against the rest of the WAIC after three home conference games in the next ten days.

The highlight of the home stand will be the Dec. 13 matchup with the number five UW-Platteville Pioneers. Berkhof knows the road is tough and has realistic expectations for the team.

“It’ll be hard to crack the top three. But after that anyone can finish anywhere four through nine,” Berkhof said. “The top six of the nine teams make the conference tournament, so our immediate goal would be to make sure we’re in those top six teams.”

Berkhof said this team has a bright future for the next few years with a young team being able to grow together, and the three young captains are an integral piece to the puzzle of moving up in the WIAC.