NEW ULM - A year ago, the Martin Luther College women's basketball team set a school record in wins, won the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, and made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament.
This year, the Knights return three starters and a handful of contributers from the record-breaking team and are very optimistic and excited heading into the upcoming season.
One of the problems Martin Luther College must solve quickly is replacing the school's all-time leading scorer, Erica Babinec. However, head coach Larry Czer is not too concerned about replacing that scoring.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Martin Luther College’s Amanda Burk is the lone senior for the Knights this season.
"I'm not worried about finding people who can score for us," Czer said. "I think we have plenty of scorers. We will miss Erica, obviously, but last year we had six or seven different leading scorers for our games so I think we will have more of that balance this year."
That returning balance of scoring starts with the lone senior on the team, forward Amanda Burk. Burk (13.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg) was voted Second Team All-Upper Midwest Athletic Confernce (UMAC) a season ago and will look to have another solid year for the Knights.
"I would expect Burk to pick up where she left off last year," Czer said. "She's a tough force to stop inside, she's a great rebounder, and a great free throw shooter."
Also returning for the Knights is junior point guard Brittney Gossen (7.8 ppg) and sophomore guards Alex Anthon (9.8 ppg) and Hannah Hackbarth (7.5 ppg).
"Gossen is a great floor leader out there," Czer said. "She showed a lot of leadership qualities last year at the point. I think Hackbarth and Anthon will really help fill the scoring void left by Erica."
Junior forward Hannah Rothe (2.5 ppg) also returns for the Knights and will have opportunities to score in the post.
The Knights also have a pair of players who are new to the team in junior Rebecca Engelbrecht and freshman Leah Nass.
Engelbrecht, an all-conference volleyball player, will add some athleticism and versatility to the Knights' lineup, while Nass brings all the physical and athletic skills to potentially blossom into a big-time player for the Knights.
The Knights current roster holds only 10 players, but the versatility and skill level of the 10 has players such as Burk very excited.
"The excitement for this year is that we have a younger, smaller team that has a lot of potential," Burk said. "Even though there are only 10 of us, many of the girls can play a variety of positions."
The Knights kicked off practice a couple of weeks ago, and after the success last season, the team is very confident and has high morale.
"They're a lot more confident so far this year," Czer said. "We won a lot of tough games last year and they learned a lot from that. Our team knows we can do it now, and that makes the team more confident."
MLC was voted third in the conference preseason polls behind the University of Minnesota-Morris and the College of St. Scholastica, but Czer believes his team can be at the top in the end.
"I'm sure the polls were serve as some motivation for us," Czer said. "I think the conference will come down to a few teams again, and I expect it to be very competitive."
Burk and the Knights have goals for the upcoming season, and know they must work very hard to attain them.
"We definitely want to be conference champs again," Burk said. "We know its going to take a lot of work especially because we have a target on our back."
The Knights open their quest for another productive and successful season at 7 p.m. tonight as they travel to face the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.