Post Season Recap: Men's and Women's Basketball
The North Central University (NCU) men’s basketball has been evolving over the past three years under head coach Dan DeWitt’s leadership into a highly competitive team. In his last three seasons, the Rams have increased in their overall win total and conference win total. Furthermore, the team finished in second place this year in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC), the best regular season finish in program history, and made it to the semi-final game of the UMAC tournament.
Throughout the season, the Rams focused on having fun and not taking themselves too seriously. “Our coaching staff and players all wanted to win at a high level this season and at times we let the pressure of that get in the way of having fun and enjoying the journey,” said DeWitt. The Rams ultimately did not let the pressure get in the way finishing at 16-11 (9-5 UMAC), including two wins over Bethany Lutheran College, a school that NCU had lost twice to by an average of 28 points two years ago.
Seniors Justin Castro and Micah Filer have been a part of the building process alongside DeWitt and were essential in the team’s success down the final stretch of the season. Filer averaged 20.6 points per game and shot 42.8% from the three-point line. Castro averaged 14.1 points per game, and recorded 116 assists during the season. These two players led the Rams to victory several times and DeWitt recognized their hard work. “These two guys have been working at the game of basketball for their entire life, so to finish strong probably meant a little bit more to them. It was really fun for me to be able to see those guys perform at such a high level down the final stretch.” Castro and Filer were both named First Team All-UMAC, the first time since the 2014-15 season that a player earned the award and the first time in program history that two players have earned the award in the same season.
With Castro and Filer graduating along with fellow senior Griffin Trull, the rest of the Rams will have some big shoes to fill in the 2022-23 season. However, players like Jonathan Thompson, Cameron Thomas, Seth Fuqua, Tanner Holtman, Kayden Sund, and Konrad Bueckers all played significant minutes this past season and that experience will drive the success of this men’s basketball team in the upcoming season.
As the NCU women’s basketball team was coming off their best season in program history, the pressure was on to produce a similar season, if not a better one. Starting with their 24-5 record, the most overall wins in program history, it is safe to say they did just that. The Rams blasted through records throughout the season including the best winning percentage, most UMAC wins, most UMAC playoff wins, and the longest winning streak of 12 games. On top of this, NCU grabbed their first UMAC Tournament Championship securing them a spot in their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Head coach Paul Brunner didn’t exactly have any expectations going into the season but knew that the “right pieces” were set in place. “I was hopeful that our group of upperclassmen would provide the maturity, steadiness and leadership that we needed to navigate the season.” And they did just that. Emily DiGiorgio, Kadija Conteh, Naomi Hagstrom, and Aubrey Robinson, all starters for NCU, finished the season with double figures in scoring. These four along with sophomore Joelle Talso led the charge for the Rams, all averaging around 30 minutes a game. However, Brunner acknowledged the depth of this team, deeming it the “deepest, most balanced team that we have ever had.” Bethany Shield, Mary Seegers, and Kaitlyn VanderPloeg were regular substitutes in the game adding to the strength of this historic Ram team.
NCU loses seven seniors, three of which were starters. Seemingly the Rams would have some rebuilding to do; however, the women’s team will welcome back Jocelyn Talso, Kayla Hola, and Alexis Garcia in the fall, players who each had season-ending knee injuries. These three would have seen the court this past season and will be big contributors in the 2022-23 season.
With a goal to “develop champions and graduate leaders”, coach Brunner has learned patience and resilience coming from basically the bottom to the top in his seven years as head coach. “It is the most exciting time in the history of our program and the players deserve all of the credit for it. I am proud of them and I love being their coach.”