NEW ULM - The Martin Luther College women's basketball team has seen this before, so it seems that by now the Knights are comfortable in the underdog role.
Last year, the Knights were picked to finish fifth in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference for the preseason poll. The Knights did manage to struggle at times during the season, but they finished 10-15 overall and 6-8 in the UMAC. They tied for fifth in the conference standings and earned a spot in the UMAC postseason tournament and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, the Knights were picked to finish sixth among the teams in the UMAC. And for junior Erica Babinec and company, that's just fine.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Martin Luther College junior Erica Babinec was named to the All-Upper Midwest Athletic Conference team last year and her freshman year for the Knights. She is expected to once again play a key role for the Knights this year.
"It was pretty good that we made the tournament and our last couple of games we played pretty good," Babinec said. "We ended pretty strong. The last game didn't end the way we wanted it to, but it gives us confidence that we can do it and it shows us a lot of things that we need to work on."
Last year, Babinec was selected to the All-UMAC first team, the second time she received that honor. While the individual accolades are nice, that's not why she plays the game.
"I'd rather have team success over individual for sure," she said. "I don't like the spotlight. It's nice to be recognized but I guess if it were that or the team winning the conference, I'd rather have the team win."
Babinec knows that there will be added pressure on her this year. She was one of the most versatile players in the conference last season, and during the conference season she led the Knights in points per game (17.3), rebounds per game (6.7), assists per game (2.8), steals per game (3.6) and free throw percentage (.823).
This year she anticipates seeing multiple defenses being thrown at her to stop her.
"We talked about that they're probably going to triple-team me or double-team me when I drive in, so I gotta look for the open pass - there's gotta be someone else open," Babinec said. "I'm sure it will be more physical and I'll have to be more mentally into the game now because of that factor.
Joining Babinec is Sarah Free, a junior who will play the shooting guard position. Free, who was also All-UMAC, provided a 3-point threat on the outside for the Knights. She finished the conference season with an average of 10.9 points per game. She finished second in the UMAC in both 3-pointers made (31) and 3-point percentage (.443) during conference play.
Joining Free and Babinec in the starting line-up this year is senior Amanda Selle and junior Emily Boldt, who will play the center position. Sophomore Amanda Gardner will play the point guard and Babinec will play the two-guard or small forward spot.
Minnesota Valley Lutheran graduate Amanda Burk, who didn't play last year, joined the team this year and is expected to help the team out at the other post position.
Off the bench, sophomore center Sarah Pederson, freshman guard Melissa Christensen, junior guard Kadie Drake, freshman guard Brittney Gossen, junior center Kari Fuerstenberg and freshman guard Johannah Crass will relieve the starters.
This year, the Knights were picked to finish sixth in the UMAC, so they know that they have an uphill battle ahead of them.
Minnesota-Morris was the unanimous first-place pick with all seven possible first place votes, while Northwestern and Northland rounded out the top three.
The Knights begin the season at Waldorf on Wednesday.