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Basketball coach envisions tough, successful season

November 10, 2010

The 2009-10 season ended with more than a little disappointment for the men’s basketball team at UW-River Falls. A team that was expected to challenge for a top four spot in the WIAC failed to even make the playoffs. The new season has brought on even more expectations.

River Falls has the core of their team back from last season and are garnering expectations from around the country. The Falcons received four votes in the preseason D3Hoops’ Top 25 poll. It is River Falls’ first appearance in the poll since 2004.

Head Coach Jeff Berkhof down played the inclusion in the preseason poll. “It’s better than nothing, but all it takes is one person to believe in us,” Berkhof said. “But we do have a chance to be pretty good.”

Berkhof begins his fifth season as the Falcons head coach. He is 39-63 overall in his career at UWRF.This will be Berkhof’s 19th year in River Falls. He played with the Falcons from 1992-94. Following that, he was former Head Coach Rick Bowen’s top assistant for 12 seasons. Berkhof spent one season as the school’s interim head coach before getting the job for good in 2007.

Three key reserves from last year’s team have moved on due to graduation; Spencer Shelman, Dijon Reese and Storm Harmon. Shelman will spend this season on the bench helping to coach the Falcons.

The biggest loss will be leading scorer, leading rebounder and All-Conference member Wade Guerin, who will more than likely sit out the entire season after offseason back surgery. The loss of Guerin will leave the Falcons a little shallow on the front line. It will be up to Jacob Voeltz and Zachary Peterson to stepup and fill the void.

The Falcons will return four out of five starters from last year’s squad. Two-time All-WIAC selection Jontae Koonkaew will begin his final season running the point for River Falls. Last season, Koonkaew averaged 13.9 points per game and nearly four assists a game. Berkhof said a change in philosophy could allow Koonkaew to make his game more complete and take it to the next level.

Aaron Anderson will begin his junior year after sitting out parts of 2009-10 with an injury.  Anderson played in just 13 games a year ago but should be healthy to begin this year.

“He is looking great at practice and he is back,” Berkhof said.

Voeltz will be counted on to help fill the space left by Guerin. In 2009-10, Voeltz was third on the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game and second in rebounds with 4.8 rebounds per game.

Daniel Johnson and Brady Hannigan will also see significant playing time once again.  Hannigan — one of the teams top defenders — played football this year, so he will be unable to join the team until the conclusion of the Falcon football season.

Johnson will be once again be counted on to add depth at the guard and big shot ability.

The biggest aqqusition of the offseason was undoubtedly Shane Manor. Manor transferred to UWRF from UW-Superior and was forced to sit out 2009-10. He averaged 10.2 points per game for Superior two seasons ago. Manor is a dynamic player who can add another dimension to the Falcon offense.

“Obviously he can take the ball to the basket, but Shane brings so much to the table, he can play defense, board and is just a smart basketball player,” Berkhof said.

Three other newcomers should make a big splash for the Falcons this season: Utibe-Abasi Udo, Taylor Peterson and Brian Kimble. Kimble and Udo are junior college transfers.

The early season schedule will definitely have some challenges on it for the Falcons.  They open their season Nov. 16 at the Karges Center versus Viterbo, but after that the season will only get tougher.

On Nov. 23, River Falls will travel to St. Paul to take on No. 13 University of St. Thomas to open up the brand new basketball facility there. They open WIAC play against Superior on Dec. 1. Looming on the other side of that matchup is a home date with the defending national champion Stevens Point Pointers on Dec. 4.

“A lot of these guys have been together through it all,” Berkhof said. “And there is a real sense of urgency to get it done this year.”