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UWRF women’s basketball returns from historic season ready to win

November 2, 2016

After a historic season last year, the UWRF women’s basketball team is focusing on the little things to make the difference in order to potentially have its best season to date.

The Falcons return four starters and 10 letterwinners from last season, including three All-WIAC players junior Taylor Karge, senior Brynn Liljander and senior Kate Theisen. Karge and Liljander both earned first team honors while Theisen grabbed honorable mention in the 2015-2016 season.

Their 23-6 record matched the most wins in UWRF history and was bolstered by a 12-2 conference record that saw the Falcons take their first WIAC regular season title since 1989, according to wiacsports.com.

Karge returns with a 14.2 points per game average and shot 48 percent from the field in 2015-2016. Liljander also returns after a big offensive impact last season by averaging 14 points per game and over two assists as well.

With such a strong returning cast minus graduated senior leader Richell Mehus, the Falcons are looking to contend for another conference title. But 17th year Head Coach Cindy Holbrook said she doesn’t believe the Falcons will be looking too far ahead at this stage in the season.

“We talk very little about winning and losing games at this point and really focus on practice and preparing for the next game. The team knows nothing is going to be easy but they can control what they can,” Holbrook said.

Part of what they can control will be replacing the impact Mehus had on the team. The senior captain added more leadership than just her 10 points per game and five rebounds a game show. However, Karge thinks the team can make the transition.

“Although we did only lose one player, [Mehus] was a really big key for us. We know we need people to step up in her spot, but we got a lot of talented freshman coming in on our team,” Karge said.

That leadership and balance was one of the main points Holbrook attributed to the Falcons’ success last season. The level of consistency the team brought will be essential for another run at the conference title. Holbrook said she believes that this year’s squad is still working into hitting their stride.

“A big part of the off season was not having Richell Mehus, but Kate Theisen took on a lot of that communication. The team is still finding their way a little bit but everyone came back much better. The senior leaders have shown noticeable improvements and it was a pretty successful off-season,” Holbrook said.

One of the key points of motivation for the Falcons this year rests in the UW-Oshkosh Titans. The Titans were picked to win the WIAC in the yearly preseason poll, even though they’re ranked below UWRF at 14th in the d3hoops.com poll.  The Falcons currently sit at 12th in the nation.

Oshkosh also came into Karges Center last season and took down the Falcons to win the WIAC conference tournament title only days after the Falcons beat the Titans to claim the regular season title. Karge and Liljander both still have strong feelings about the outcome.

“That game is the motivation in the weight room, the motivation in practice, and the motivation when we’re running lines. That game is still very vivid in all of our memories,” Karge said.

“I know I think about that game a lot and can remember it very well. I personally have lost the WIAC playoff title game three years in a row and that’s certainly a lot of motivation going into the season,” Liljander said.

Holbrook had a very different view on the conference playoff loss. She finds more motivation in building each day and isn’t too caught up on the game from last season.

“I think that’s something that affects players more than it affects coaches. If I had to choose one of the titles to win it would be the regular season conference title because you’re battling for it every day for five months and it’s the reflection of the best team for the season,” Holbrook said.

This Falcon team has the talent to win a conference championship and is good enough to play in the tournament. But now Holbrook knows the team needs to focus on the little things in order to make it to that level.

“We’re not grabbing onto the details right now, whether it be our positioning on defense or our timing and angles on offense. They aren’t holding onto the little things right now and it will be a huge tipping point if they don’t,” Holbrook said.

The Falcons have so many returning players that turnover won’t be a problem, but their ability to work as a team may be able to take them a long way.

“I think our chemistry on and off the court alone will allow us to go far,” Liljander said.

The Falcons open up their season at Carleton College on Nov. 15. UWRF won’t return home until they open up their season at Karges Center on Nov. 29 against Viterbo University at 6 p.m.

The fans made the difference down the stretch last season in making Karges Center a difficult place for opposing teams to play. That kind of enthusiasm and repeated success on the court would make for an exciting season for UWRF basketball.