FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – It's a new season of optimism for third-year Head Coach Bill Peters and the Marian University women's basketball team following its second straight appearance in the Northern Athletics Conference tournament in 2012.
Last season, the Sabres excelled from the beyond the arc, leading the league with 221 three-pointers made and boasting the nation's most efficient long range shooter, Sarah Albert, who made 62 three-pointers at a 49.6 percent clip. She led all NCAA Divisions I, II and III, as well as, NAIA in three-point percentage. The Howards Grove native will once again lead Marian and its potent threat from the outside.
"I'm very confident in our guard play," Peters said. "We have girls that can shoot the ball well. Offensively, we will be strong."
The Sabres' most dominant presence offensively last year was Alexis Becker, who would be tough to replace for any team as the All-NAC First Teamer became the 12th 1,000-point scorer in program history during her senior season. Others will need to step up and Peters is confident that his returners and talented class of newcomers can fill the void.
"Alexis was a very versatile player and fantastic senior leader and that is going to be hard to replace," Peters said. "However, as a unit, I think we can make up for what was lost with the core group we have now and the new girls we have coming in."
Without a single senior on the roster, Peters will look to junior captains Dani Huray and Ashley Backes to carry on the leadership role. Both played big minutes a year ago and proved they could be leaders by example on the floor.
"Dani is one our better defenders who will also contribute heavily in assists and rebounds," Peters said of Huray.
"Ashley [Backes] is ready to step up in a leadership role as well," Peters added. "She's healthy, more experienced and hungry to take that next step."
Amelia Mirsberger, who came off the bench to play point guard a year ago, will assume the starting role in 2012-13. She has some big shoes to fill after losing Bianca Whittington to graduation, but is poised for a breakout season according to Coach Peters.
With a lot to build on, the depth was a concern that the coaching staff feels like they have addressed.
Sharp shooter, Rissa Cerveny, has been so impressive in the preseason that she has earned her way into the starting lineup to start the year.
"Rissa has had a great preseason," Peters said. "She's a strong, pure shooter and can handle the ball. We look for her to make an immediate impact."
Ally Hopp is a point guard that played for Peters as a freshman at Ripon High School. She joins the Sabres as a possible match-up advantage against opposing teams due in large part to her height as she stands five-foot, nine inches.
Brianna Tietz and Lindsay Vogels will add size and depth to the post position, while Emily Genzmer, a transfer from Concordia University Chicago, will contribute at the guard position. Caitlin Siesco returns to the squad after taking a year away from basketball. She appeared in 20 games as a freshman in 2010-11 and will look to pick up where she left off.
Marian finished last season 3-8 in games decided by 10 points or less and was 0-5 in games decided by two possessions or fewer. It's a stat that can go either way and change the course of a season for some teams. Despite the fact, the Sabres still finished the season with a .500 record overall and in conference play and Coach Peters feels like they can turn the tide the other way this year.
"Looking back at last year's stats, we committed more fouls and gave up more points at the free throw line than our opponents," Peters said in response to the narrow losses last season. "Hopefully, another year of experience for our returners can make up the difference in that regard."
Last season, the Sabres were third in the league in free throw percentage at 71.8, but their opponents made 73 more free throws over the course of the year.
The 2012-13 schedule will prove to be a challenge night in and night out as three state schools, Chicago, Lawrence, a trip to California and the ever-competitive NAC slate are on the docket.
"I believe in a challenging non-conference schedule because it prepares us well for the conference season and the postseason," Peters stated.
Two nationally ranked opponents will don the Blue and White's schedule in UW-Stevens Point (Nov. 20) and Chicago (Dec. 20) with the latter taking place at home. UW-Stout (Dec. 15) and UW-Oshkosh (Dec. 17) will also invade Sadoff Gymnasium, while the likes of Lawrence (Nov. 15) and a pair of games taking place over a five-day trip to California against Chapman (Dec. 28) and Manchester (Dec. 29) will conclude the non-conference schedule.
Marian sees two NAC opponents right off the bat with a road test at Maranatha (Nov. 17) and the home opener against Edgewood (Nov. 28). With the conference re-alignment sending Wisconsin Lutheran to the South and the MSOE to the North, the Sabres will only wind up facing the reigning division champion Warriors once in the regular season. That matchup will take place on the road, Jan. 12.
The Sabres were picked to finish fourth again in the North Division, but Peters is optimistic the team can improve on that. Fans can get their first looks at the Marian women's basketball team as they take on Lawrence in the season opener tonight in Appleton. Tip-off is slated for 5 p.m.
Marian opens up the 2012-13 campaign Thursday, Nov. 15, against Lawrence in Appleton, Wis. Tip-off is slated for 5 p.m.