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Waldorf brings determination into new season

By Matt Oliver

FOREST CITY – Last year’s tough finish is in the past and the Waldorf College women’s basketball team is focused on moving forward heading into a new season.

“I told our team at the beginning of the year, that this year’s season is in their hands,” Waldorf coach Katie Schutjer said. “They get to mold it and do what they want with it.”

The Warriors begin their first season in the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA). They’ve bought in to a hard-work mentality and are ready to turn things around on the court.

“Their actions and work ethic, both on and off the court, will determine the outcome of their season,” said Schutjer, who begins her second season at Waldorf. “Our expectations are simply for each and every player to take control of their opportunity and make the most of it. With that, we believe, will come success.”

Waldorf returns four players from a team that finished with a 4-26 record and 2-12 mark in the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference (MCAC) during the 2014-15 campaign.

Mackenzie Gott aims to power the way for the Warriors. The 5-foot-11 forward from Oskaloosa earned all-conference honorable mention recognition last season, leading the team in scoring and rebounding with 15.9 points and 8.2 boards a game while recording seven double-doubles. Gott went a team-high 49.7 percent from the field on 170-of-342 shooting.

“Being the lone senior and one of four returners, she will have a huge impact this season,” Schutjer said. “She will be a strong presence for us inside, which will then open up our guard game on the perimeter.”

Juniors Jenna Quina, Mikaela Vega and sophomore Jessica Denholm are the remaining returners for a relatively young Waldorf team.

“The other returners understand their roles on this team and they have embraced that immensely,” Schutjer said. “Every player we have on board this season is going to make an impact on this team in one way or another.”

Miriah Carruth, Jamerka Martin and Molly Greenfield are junior college transfers, who are poised to bolster Waldorf’s roster.

“The transfers we brought in have good basketball IQ, but are also bringing experience along with them which immediately makes us a better team,” Schutjer said.

Carruth spent the past two seasons at Riverland Community College. The 5-foot-5 point from guard St. Paul, Minn. capped her sophomore year as an All-Minnesota Collegiate Athletic Conference Team selection, leading the Blue Devils in scoring and assists with 17.4 points and four assists a game. Carruth also averaged six rebounds and 1.4 steals in her final season at Riverland.

Martin, a 5-foot-8 guard from Milwaukee, averaged 10.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists at Marshalltown Community College last year.

Greenfield provides hot perimeter shooting for the Warriors. The 5-foot-8 guard from Williams averaged 9.5 points, four boards and 1.3 assists as a sophomore at Ellsworth Community College last season. She owns Ellsworth’s career 3-point record, draining 127 shots from downtown in two years.

Juniors Elizabeth Carlton and Nicole Kucza also join the Warriors. Kucza, a transfer from Presentation College, will redshirt this season.

Samantha Birkes is one of eight freshmen ready to contribute at Waldorf. Birkes led Sioux City West High School in scoring with 15.9 points a game and also averaged five rebounds while earing Class 5A third-team all-state honors.

Kassidy Bunger, Taylor Fricke, Taylor Kurtz, Ameh Ogbemudia, Haley Lawrence, Meriel Leavy and Angie Gore round out a promising group of freshmen newcomers for the Warriors.

“The freshmen we have this year, although young, also have good basketball IQ which is allowing them to get better each day on the court,” Schutjer said.

Waldorf possesses several major strengths this year with the ability to score down low and outside.

“We have good post presence,” Schutjer said. “We have some sharpshooters from the outside, which will help open up our inside game. We also have some kids who can handle the basketball well and get to the basket and finish, which will be key.”

Another positive attribute displayed by Waldorf’s team is that players understand their roles and the importance they play.

“I told our team at the beginning of the season that I do not care who starts or who plays the most minutes,” Schutjer said. “I care about being successful as a team and in order to attain that, we as coaches have to make sure we have kids on the court at all times that can get the job done, whatever that job is. So far, our team has embraced that well.”

The Warriors open the season in this weekend’s Grand View Classic at Des Moines. They take on Grand View University on Friday at 8 p.m. and Mount Mercy University on Saturday at 4 p.m.

“We will face two very tough teams,” Schutjer said. “Over the past few years, both teams have had great success. Both teams are very athletic and have good post and perimeter play.”

Grand View is coming off a 14-18 record last year, but returns several key players and a core group of seniors. Mount Mercy finished 19-14 last season and also brings back a talented roster. Waldorf is up for both challenges.

“In order to be successful this weekend, we are obviously going to have to shoot well, outwork and outthink our opponents,” Schutjer said. “From what I have seen from our team in the past few weeks of practice, coming out on top this weekend is definitely attainable.”

The Warriors begin conference play in the Waldorf Classic as they host Presentation on Nov. 27 and welcome the University of Jamestown to Hanson Fieldhouse on Nov. 28.

Set to begin a new season, the Warriors aren’t selling themselves short.

“I believe that our goals for this year’s team, not just the coaches but the team as a whole, are to finish with a winning record, make a run at the conference title and to change the image of the women’s basketball program,” Schutjer said.

Waldorf turned in its last winning season in 2012-13, finishing with an 18-13 record. This year’s team is making the push to restore a winning tradition.

“This program has not seen a winning season here the past few years and we have been working hard in the preseason to change that,” Schutjer said. “There will be ups and downs on the road to attaining that, we have seen some already. However, we as coaches are excited to see how this team learns and responds to the obstacles and outcomes. Our whole team is ready to have some fun this season.”