Winona State athletics gears up for basketball season

Christopher Edwards, Sports Writer

After an offseason like no other due to COVID-19, Winona State University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are going to have a chance to hit the court this upcoming season.

The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) announced this month that “Men’s and Women’s Basketball schedules will be 16-games played over 8 weeks with teams playing the same opponent at one site on back-to-back days. The season will start with two non-conference games against one NSIC out-of-division opponent. The conference schedule will then consist of 14 games with teams playing each member of its division twice. For this season, the NSIC will only crown a North Division and South Division Champion.”

The season will begin in January.

Winona State’s women’s head basketball coach, Scott Ballard, said the team will be playing back-to-back games against opponents so that teams “will have half as much risk of exposure.”

Last year, the women’s basketball team finished 16-11 and lost in the second round of the NSIC tournament.

Even though last season didn’t end how the Warriors wanted it to, the team was able to bring back 12 of their players.

“We’re not the only team that has a lot of people returning,” Ballard said. “But you know, that normally is an advantage experience-wise, chemistry-wise and leadership-wise to have several returners.”

Some of the returning players include fourth-year forward Taylor Hustad and fourth-year guard Emily Kieck.

Hustad led the team in points last season with 14.7 points per game and in rebounds with 8.0 per game.

Kieck led the team in assists with 4.6 per game and in steals with 1 per game.

Along with the returning players, the Warriors brought in three first-year players: guard Mattie Schimenz, guard/wing Kaitlyn Schrimpf and forward Vanessa Alexander.

Ballard spoke highly of them, saying “they’re not only athletic and talented, but they are basketball smart.”

Winona State will have three weeks of practice, then go on winter break for seven days, followed by five more days of practice before the Warriors open up the season.

Ballard also said that all NSIC players will be tested for COVID on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week during the season.

Even though the NSIC does have a plan for this season, Ballard is still taking everything week to week.

“It’s not smart to plan anything more than a week in advance because so many things change in a short period of time and,” Ballard said. “You’re just one positive test away with anybody on the team from being shut down for a couple weeks.”

The men’s team has also been able to benefit from returning veteran players as they had all starters return except alumni Caleb Wagner.

The returning players include fourth-year guard Devin Whitelow and fourth-year forward Kevion Taylor.

Whitelow was second on the team last season in assists, averaging 3.5 per game.

Taylor led the Warriors in three-pointers last season with 109 points, as well as in rebounds, averaging seven per game.

Whitelow and Taylor provide a lot of experience while also setting the tone for “how hard to work and how hard to play,” Whitelow said.

Aside from the returning players, the Warriors were able to add five first-year players and two transfers.

One of the transfers, Owen King, played two years at South Dakota State and will have a chance to fill in for Wagner at the guard position.

Whitelow feels that with the Warriors new additions “[this] could be the best team we’ve had.”

Despite not being able to meet in-person because of COVID restrictions the team was able to stay in contact through Zoom and text this year.

Even though it’s a shorter season, Whitelow said he is grateful to have a season at all.

Both men’s and women’s basketball will open the season on the road against University of Minnesota-Duluth on Jan. 2, 2021