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Athletes, coaches ready for spring season, tournaments

February 11, 2022

The regular seasons for a handful of Falcon teams are drawing to a close. With the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) tournaments fast approaching, here is where some of those teams stand going into the home stretch of their seasons.

Men’s Basketball

The UWRF Men’s Basketball team closes out their regular season with a home game against UW-Platteville and a road game at UW-Stevens Point. Heading into their game against UW-Platteville on Saturday, Feb. 12, the Falcons were 11-9. Their matchup with Stevens Point will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 7 pm. 

In conference play, the Falcons sit in sixth place out of the eight teams in the WIAC with a record of 4-7. UW-La Crosse is currently leading the pack with an overall record of 19-3 and a conference record of 9-3. The Falcons rank fifth in the conference in total offense with an average of 75.6 points per game, and seventh on total defense, allowing opponents to score 75.2 points per game.

The Falcons have been led by their dynamic duo of senior guard Noah Hanson and freshman center Rodrick Payne. Offensively, Hanson is the straw that stirs the drink. He is averaging 18.7 points per game, making him the fourth leading scorer in the conference. Payne has had a strong inaugural season with the Falcons, contributing 14.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, and 1 block per game. Sophomore guard Regan Merritt has served as a useful spark plug off of the bench, averaging 6.4 points per game while shooting 42.6% from beyond the arc.

Typically, both the WIAC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments only feature the top six teams. However, because of numerous games being canceled due to COVID-19, all eight teams will be seeded in the tournament. It appears, in all likelihood, that the Falcons are locked in for the No. 6 seed, meaning they would end up playing the No. 7 seed. If the Falcons do indeed secure the No. 6 seed, that would mean that UW-Eau Claire would be the No. 7 seed. 

The first round of the tournament begins on Friday, Feb. 18, featuring the No. 8 seed at the No. 5 seed and the No. 7 seed at the No. 6 seed. The championship round will be played on Saturday, Feb. 26.  

Women’s Basketball

Like the men’s basketball team, the UWRF Women’s Basketball team will finish their season by facing UW-Platteville, followed by a game against UW-Stevens Point. Prior to the game against Platteville, which was played on Feb. 12, the Falcon’s overall record was 10-11. The Falcon’s matchup with Stevens Point will be played on Wed., Feb. 16, at 7 pm at Don Page Arena. The two Falcon seniors, guard Jenna Zeman and guard Haley DeSouza, will both be honored during their season finale for senior night.

The Falcons sit in seventh place in the WIAC with a record of 3-8, putting them a game behind the sixth-place UW-Stevens Point, which is 3-7 in the conference. At the top of the standings is UW-Whitewater with an overall record of 21-2 and a 11-1 record in the WIAC. The Falcons rank fifth in the conference in total offense, scoring 63.6 points per game, and last in total defense, giving up 67.5 points per game.

The calling card of this Falcons team is their three-point shooting. They lead the WIAC in three-point field goal percentage (33%) and three-point field goals made (8.2 per game). The Falcon’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Macy Nilsen, is a high-volume shooter and has been knocking down threes at a 36.7 percent clip. Nilsen’s 14.4 points per game ranks fourth in the WIAC. Zeman is also a dangerous shooter, averaging 12.1 points per game, while shooting 36% from downtown. Other notable three-point-shooting percentages, DeSouza’s 35.5% and junior guard Cassie Heinrichs’ 39.7%, make the Falcons a difficult team to guard behind the three-point line.

If the Falcons can win their final two games, they will be able to leapfrog UW-Stevens Point and secure the No. 6 seed in the WIAC tournament, which would give them the home-court advantage. Regardless of the outcome of their remaining games, they will be playing Stevens Point on Feb. 18 in the first round of the tournament. The championship will be played on Feb. 25. 

Men’s Hockey

The UWRF Men’s Hockey team completed its regular season with back-to-back games against UW-Eau Claire. Prior to the games, the Falcons overall record stood at 13-9-1, and their record in the WIAC was 9-4-0-1. See uwrfsports.com to see the results of those games. 

As of games played through Feb. 9, the Falcons sat tied at the top of the standings alongside UW-Stevens Point with 26 conference points, while Eau Claire held down third place with 21. The Falcons rank third in the WIAC in both goals scored per game (2.65) and goals allowed per game (2.43). The Falcon’s definitely have room for improvement when it comes to their special teams. Their conversion rate on the power play is last in the WIAC at 11.1 percent, and their penalty-killing percentage is second-to-last at 83.3 percent. 

Senior forward Cayden Cahill has led the charge offensively thus far for the Falcons, notching 18 points split between six goals and 12 assists. Defenseman Noah Ganske has been a revelation for the team with his ability to make an impact on both ends of the ice. Ganske was named the WIAC Kwik Trip Men’s Hockey Athlete of the Week for his play from Jan. 31-Feb. 5 after he scored a hat trick, two of those goals coming on the power play, during the Falcon’s 4-3 comeback win over UW-Superior on Feb. 4. Ganske is the second leading scorer with six goals and 11 assists. The Falcon’s primary puck stopper, sophomore goaltender Dysen Skinner, has a 10-6 record allowing 2.32 goals per game. 

As long as the Falcons avoided losing both games in regulation to Eau Claire, they will have secured one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye in the upcoming WIAC tournament beginning on Feb. 18. Thus, the next time you will see the Falcons take the ice will be during the WIAC semifinals, which are set to take place Feb. 25-26. 

Women’s Hockey

The UWRF Women’s Hockey team has been dominating opponents all season long to the tune of a 21-1 record and a No. 4 ranking nationally. They will wrap up their fantastic season with back-to-back tilts with UW-Eau Claire, the only team to put a blemish on the Falcons record. The Falcon’s will put their 14-game winning streak on the line at Hunt Arena on Friday, Feb. 18, time to be announced. They play their last game of the regular season at Eau Claire on Saturday, Feb. 19, at 2 pm. 

Currently, the Falcons are deadlocked with the #5 Eau Claire Blugolds at the top of the WIAC standings with 18 points. The Falcons lost their previous faceoff with the Blugolds 0-2 at Eau Claire. The Falcons boast the most potent offense in the WIAC, scoring a blistering 5.95 goals per game, meanwhile, the Blugolds have the stingiest defense, allowing 0.90 goals per game. This matchup is a perfect example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. 

The Falcon’s offensive onslaught is headed by their linchpin senior forward Callie Hoff. Hoff, the top point scorer in the WIAC, has netted 20 goals and tallied 30 assists in her 19 games played, putting her 11 points ahead of the next player. Not only has Hoff cemented herself as arguably the best player in the WIAC, but she has also staked her claim as the best player in UWRF’s history. On Jan. 26, she scored her 85th career goal to make her the program’s all-time leading goal-scorer, and then on Feb. 1, she became the all-time leading scorer with her 169th career point. 

Hoff is certainly not without help considering that of the top five point-scorers in the WIAC, the remaining four are her teammates. Senior forward Abigail Stow, senior forward Kora Torkelson, sophomore forward Alex Hantge, and junior forward Maddie McCollins help Hoff round out that top five, and senior forward Erin Olson ranks seventh herself. Senior goaltender Sami Miller sports a 10-1 record with 4 shutouts, a 1.55 goals against average, and a .919 save percentage.

Depending on how they fare against Eau Claire, the Falcons will either have the No. 1 seed or the No. 2 seed in the WIAC tournament. Both of the top seeds come with a bye, meaning the Falcons wouldn’t play in the tournament until Feb. 25 or Feb. 26. The WIAC championship will be played on Mar. 5.

Although, the Falcon’s eyes are set much higher than winning the WIAC. They hold dreams of winning the 2022 NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament. In 2019, the last time the Falcons played in this tournament, they were bounced by Hamline in the quarterfinals 5-1. Nine teams will qualify this year, all but assuring the Falcons will be in the dance again this year, as they are currently ranked fourth. The 2022 NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament begins on March 10.

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