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Warriors enter season with experience, youth and size

Waldorf Warriors LogoBy: Waldorf Sports Information Director

FOREST CITY – The Waldorf University men’s basketball team enters the season prepared to battle every time it steps onto the court.

“I expect this team to be very competitive,” Waldorf coach Nigel Jenkins said. “The preseason and practices have been great so far, and now it has to carry over into games.”

Three seniors return for the Warriors to complement five juniors, including two transfers. Four of the team’s five underclassmen are freshmen.

“We have a good mixture of experience, youth and size,” said Jenkins, who enters his sixth season at Waldorf. “If we can play hard and play together every night, we should be in the conference championship race when it’s all said and done.”

The Warriors finished last season with a 16-14 record, matching a school record for wins in a season since joining the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). In its inaugural year in the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA), Waldorf closed out the season with a 5-7 conference mark and ended the year in the NSAA Tournament quarterfinals.

With a close-knit group that relies on one another, the Warriors are aiming to make that trait translate to on-court success.

“The biggest strength will be our togetherness and trust in each other,” Jenkins said. “This team is a close group of young men, who will play for each other. That’s half the battle in team sports.”

June Prowell, Michael Morgan and Pavle Mihajlovic look to set the tone for Waldorf as senior leaders.

“Our senior leadership has been very solid, and I expect that to continue as we get ready to play a tough non-conference schedule,” Jenkins said.

Prowell ranked second on the team in scoring last season after averaging 15.7 points, five rebounds and a team-high 3.9 assists a game. The 6-foot-2 point guard from Atlanta shot 130-of-291 (44.7 percent) from the field and converted on 135-of-169 (79.9 percent) trips to the free-throw line.

Morgan, a 6-foot-4 forward from Charlotte, Tennessee, averaged 8.7 points and a team-high seven rebounds last year. He ranks third in school history with 444 career rebounds. Morgan shot a team-best 52 percent from the floor, knocking down 118-of-227 attempts.

Kaden Verdin averaged 6.9 points and 5.2 rebounds last season. The 6-foot-9 junior center went 76-of-186 (40.9 percent) from the field. Junior Eric English also played a pivotal role while starting in 17 games for the Warriors.

June Prowell, Michael Morgan, Kaden Verdin and Eric English all bring a great deal of experience to the table this year,” Jenkins said.

Freshman Myles Simmons aims to make an immediate impact. The 6-foot-3 guard from Indianapolis averaged 21.9 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four steals while leading Herron High School to the Class 3A state tournament last season.

Leland March, a 6-foot junior guard, led Mesabi Range Community College in scoring last year while averaging 17.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game. He was named to the Minnesota Collegiate Athletic Conference (MCAC) All-Northern Division Team. March shot 41.9 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from 3-point range and 83.3 percent at the foul line during his sophomore season.

Freshman Brady Kuchinka starred on the court at Lincoln High School in Lake City, Minnesota, where the 5-foot-10 point guard was an all-conference and all-area selection. Kuchinka averaged 20 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals while leading the Tigers to a 24-4 record last season. He was also named the 2014 All-Area Player of the Year.

“I can see Myles Simmons, Brady Kuchinka and Leland March all being very important pieces to the puzzle for us,” Jenkins said.

Junior Chris Ayers and sophomore Shay Motter also return for the Warriors. Aaron Holiday, a junior transfer from Green River Community College will make his Waldorf debut this season. Gabriel Munoz, a 7-foot-3 freshman center from Madrid, Spain, is also among the team’s group of six newcomers. Freshman Jake Dale will redshirt this year.

Waldorf tips off the 2016-17 season on Friday against Dakota Wesleyan University in a 7 p.m. matchup at Mitchell, South Dakota. The Tigers are ranked No. 25 in the NAIA Division II preseason poll.

“Our opener against Dakota Wesleyan is a very tough game to start the year,” Jenkins said. “Dakota Wesleyan is traditionally a very tough team to beat that plays in a very tough conference.”

Last season, the Tigers posted a 23-11 record and placed third in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) with a 13-7 league record.  Dakota Wesleyan battled to the second round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament and is led by coach Matt Wilber, who has compiled a 38-11 home record in three years with the program.

“Coach Wilber is a great coach, who does a great job of getting his team to defend their home court,” Jenkins said.

The Warriors knocked off the then-No.24 Tigers in an 82-79 win during last year’s season opener. Dakota Wesleyan boasted the 10th-best scoring offense in the nation while averaging 88.27 points last season.

“They are a high-scoring team that moves the ball very well,” Jenkins said. “In order for us to be successful, we have to take care of the ball offensively and do a great job on the defensive end.”

Waldorf hosts its home opener against Dordt College on Nov. 8, starting at 7:30 p.m. Dordt is receiving votes in the national preseason poll.

The Warriors begin the NSAA season on Dec. 3 as they take on Viterbo University in a 5 p.m. tipoff at La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The NSAA produced three national tournament teams last season with Dakota State University, Bellevue University and Valley City State University (1-2) each qualifying for the big dance.

Dakota State, which won the NSAA Tournament championship to earn an automatic national tournament bid, posted a 19-4 record and went 10-4 in conference play.  The Trojans ended the year receiving votes in the national poll and shared the regular-season conference title with Bellevue and Valley City State. Valley City State advanced to the second round of nationals and finished the season ranked No. 21 while turning in a 22-11 record and 8-5 conference mark. Bellevue closed out the year with a 20-12 record, 7-3 conference finish and received votes in the final national poll.

The NSAA has two ranked teams to begin the season with No. 14 Dakota State and No. 24 Bellevue. Also making noise is the University of Jamestown, which is receiving votes in the national preseason poll.

Facing two ranked opponents in the first three contests of the season, the Warriors also square off against No. 21 Midland University in the Concordia Tournament on Nov. 4 at Seward, Nebraska.

Competing in a conference that presents challenges from top to bottom, Waldorf is bringing a rational approach into the season.

“Our main goal for this season is to take this season one practice at a time and one game at a time,” Jenkins said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves and look ahead to other games on the schedule.”

With a stacked non-conference schedule and the fact that there isn’t a single NSAA opponent that can be overlooked, the Warriors know they will be tested every step of the way and must be ready to go in each contest.

“No game is bigger than the other for us,” Jenkins said. “Every game is a big game. If we get better every day in practice and come ready to play each game, we will be tough to beat.”