"Three" was the theme in the MIAC, at least until tonight (Wednesday, December 9, 2009). After three rounds of play, three men's teams were off to a better than .500 start and three women's teams remained undefeated. In each case, the leaders include a couple of perennial powers and a surprise, and both of the surprise teams were scheduled to face off against their perennial oppressors.
Cardinal Men Take Flight
On the men's side, the surprise is St. Mary's. The Cardinals haven't had a winning record in the MIAC since 2000, and the past two years they've won 9 games and lost 41 overall. But junior guards Lukas Holland and Will Wright are both scoring more than 18 points per game and freshman Chris Palmer, who hails from my alma mater in Faribault Bethlehem Academy, is coming off the bench to kick in 12 points and 7 boards. Coach Todd Landrum, in his second year at St. Mary's, didn't recruit his dynamic guard duo but he's clearly got this team playing with spirit and confidence--no more so than in a recent 80-77 loss at Gustavus Adolphus.
Gustavus led St. Mary's 47-24 at half-time, but the Cardinals stormed back within 76-75 on a Palmer bucket on a Wright assist at 0:21. St. Mary's ran out of time, but the result raised more than a few eyebrows around the MIAC.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals' scheduled visit to St. Thomas was postponed tonight due to the weather, so we'll have to wait until January 11 to find out just how "for real" St. Mary's really is.
Scots Women Back on the Map
Among the women, the surprise team is Macalester, whose season was suspended after 6 games in 2005 due to a lack of healthy players. Coach Ellen Thompson, captain of St. Thomas' 1991 national champions, was brought in to rebuild the Scots' program, and that's just what she's done. Led by (now) seniors, Ann Baltzer, Eartha Bell, Danielle Johnson and Trina PaStarr, Macalester has improved its record every year that Thompson and the senior class have been on board.
It's true, of course, that the biggest games thus far have featured not Macalester but Concordia (Moorhead). The Cobbers shocked pre-season championship fave St. Thomas 63-45 on opening night, then turned around and lost at Gustavus 66-61. It's also true, however, that those games now have been overshadowed by tonight's visit of perennially powerful St. Ben's to the up-and-coming Scots.
And for the moment, the Scots will have to content themselves with sole possession of 3rd place in the MIAC (3-1) after a 75-65 home court loss to the Bennies. The game was last tied at 19 before the Blazers ran out to a 42-27 half-time lead. It was still 73-57 St. Ben's at 1:28. Heather Gillund, a 6-1 junior post from Blaine, led the way for the Blazers with 17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals. St. Ben's remains tied for first place in the MIAC with Gustavus Adolphus.
Gustavus Remains Adolphus
The Gustavus men and women both remain unbeaten at 4-0 after both defeated Augsburg tonight. The women, playing at home, trounced the Auggies 80-39, dashing out to leads of 8-0, 23-7 and 38-14 at the half. 6-2 freshman post Abby Rothenbuehler from Mankato West led the way with 19 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
The men, playing on the road, needed an overtime to avoid the upset, 77-72. Gustavus led early 18-8, but only 24-23 at the half. Augsburg took its first lead since 4-2 at 28-26 and eventually led 54-47 at 5:38. Gustavus didn't lead in the second half after 35-34 but tied the score at 61 with just 11 ticks left on the clock. In overtime, it was all Gustavus. Sophomore guard Seth Anderson came off the bench to score 18 points.
A Long Way to Go
After tonight, only three more conference games remain to be played before next January 2. Still, it's probably not too early to say that it seems unlikely that upstarts Macalester or St. Mary's will be able to wrestle an MIAC championship away from the perennial powers Gustavus, St. Ben's and St. Thomas. Those would represent upsets of historic proportions. But it's probably not too early to make coaches Landrum and Thompson the front-runners for coach of the year honors in the MIAC.