FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – A youthful, yet experienced squad is hoping to carry the momentum of last year into this year and teams around the league are taking notice as the Marian University men's basketball team has virtually everyone back from a season ago.
The Sabres won seven of its last 10 games to conclude the regular season and qualify for the 2012 NAC tournament. They had two players earn All-NAC honorable mention accolades in Jeff Harris and Cody Veleke and Mike Keller was named NAC Freshman of the Year after a stellar rookie season.
"I'm hoping we can build on last year," Head Coach Mark Boyle, who enters his 25th season at Marian, said in anticipation of the start of a new season. "I think we will be in every game we play. There's a lot of parity in the league this year and I don't think there's a team we can't play with."
The Sabres finished 10-16 overall, 7-9 in the conference, but showed vast improvements as the season went on and as their young freshmen, who played big minutes, gained valuable experience.
Two juniors that have seen major minutes over their first two seasons and will be honored as team captains this season will be Veleke and Sam Koslowski.
"They're capable of taking another step forward," Boyle said. "Cody has a nice combination of size and versatility, while [Koslowski] will be a major scoring threat for us."
Both players averaged career-bests in points with Veleke leading the way with team-highs in points (15.6 ppg) and rebounds (6.4 rpg). Koslowski, the team's proverbial sixth man, finished third on the team at 11.7 points per game.
Keller, coming off his NAC Freshman of the Year award, is poised for another standout season as well.
"He had a huge impact with how we finished last year," Boyle said of his sophomore forward. "He really steps it up in crunch time and has a tremendous drive to do what it takes to win."
His twin brother Mark Keller, who was also a key factor in the team's progress last season, started 23 games as a freshman last year and will also be looked at to step up with a year of experience.
The team's lone senior, Jake Coenen, will take on an increased role as scorer this season. He reached double-figures just once last year, but with the absence of Harris will be given more opportunities to score.
Also adding depth to the outside will be several newcomers. Alex Stecker is a pure point guard from a storied program in Oostburg, while Drew Binversie will serve as a combo guard that can play at both ends. Brad Koth will also be in the mix as a solid scorer. Carvell Oliver made it as a walk-on and has impressed the coaching staff thus far with his attitude and potential as an athletic guard.
Marian adds another set of twins in Devan and Devon Hall, two athletic post players that show great upside with a mix of athleticism and knowledge of the game.
Elan Solvik and Augustine Avelleyra may seem like newcomers, having not played in a while due to season-ending injuries last year. Coach Boyle looks for both to give a significant lift on both ends of the floor.
The 2012-13 schedule proves to be as challenging as always. The Sabres will open the regular season at the Big Four Tournament hosted by Moody Bible Institute, taking on William Penn (Nov. 16) and either IU-Dabney or host Moody Bible (Nov. 17) in Chicago.
Other non-conference opponents include Lawrence (Nov. 21), Dubuque (Dec. 15), St. Norbert (Dec. 29), Martin Luther (Dec. 18), Northland International (Jan. 26) and the home opener against Ripon (Nov. 24).
Marian will open up the NAC slate at home with North division rival Concordia Wisconsin (Nov. 27). The Sabres will then hit the road for a pair of league contests against Dominican (Dec . 1) and MSOE (Dec. 5). The Sabres will see the Raiders twice after the league re-alignment sent Wisconsin Lutheran to the South Division and MSOE to the North.
A challenging final stretch awaits Marian with three straight NAC road games to conclude the regular season. The Sabres will travel to Edgewood (Feb. 6), Benedictine (Feb. 9) and North division favorite Lakeland (Feb. 12).
The 2012 NAC Tournament is set for Feb. 16-23, with the top-eight teams qualifying for the postseason bracket. The tournament champion will earn the league's NCAA Division III automatic bid to the national tournament.
The season begins tonight with the Sabres taking on William Penn in Chicago. Tip-off is slated for 5 p.m.