• Defending league post-season champ and pre-season favorite Wayne State is threatening to run away and hide from the other women's teams. The Wildcats are 6-0 in the conference (7-1 overall) and have out-scored 6 opponents by an average of 73-53. Pre-season player of the year Ashley Arlen leads the way with 16 ppg, while post Mara Hjelle, from Mahtomedi, MN, is averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. Guard Ali Schwartzwald, from North Branch, MN, joins Hjelle in the Wildcats' starting lineup, and is contributing 5 points and 2-and-a-half assists.
• In contrast, the men's race appears to be wide open as Mankato State and surprising UMD are tied at the top at 5-1. The Mavericks from Mankato, defending regular season champions, were placed 3rd in the coach's pre-season poll, and are led by Jefferson Mason, from Cooper, with 16.5 ppg. The Bulldogs have jelled around junior guard Ryan Rasmussen, who scores 16 ppg.
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Moorhead, St. Cloud and Winona State, and Concordia-St. Paul are all tied for 3rd behind Mankato and UMD at 3-2. Winona, the pre-season pick, needed a half-court 3 from Anthony Tucker to beat SW State at home on Friday in order to stay above .500. The Warriors thus qualify as the main disappointment thus far, yet they remain in the hunt for a regular season title.
Top individual performers are Tucker at 20 ppg thus far; and St. Cloud's Taylor Witt, the pre-season choice as player of the year, with 18 ppg. Mason is on track to earn 1st team all-conference honors, especially if his Mavs remain atop the standings. The other top performers are Anthony Moody of Mary with 18 points and 2.1 steals per game. And 6-8 soph Alex Novak leads Moorhead with 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while also contributing 11 ppg.
Men's coach of the year so far is Gary Holmquist, now in his 14th year at surprising UMD, who was placed 12th out of 14 teams in the pre-season coach's poll. Mankato coach Matt Marganthaler has also earned a share of 1st place at the holiday break, and he recently won his 200th game as the Mavericks' coach.
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Moorhead and Winona share 2nd place behind Wayne State. Selected for 6th place in the pre-season coach's poll, the Dragons are now 4-1 and 7-2 overall behind 6-2 junior Angie Jetvig, from Hawley, MN, who leads her team with 20 ppg, 8 boards and 2 steals per game. Winona was pegged for 4th in the pre-season poll but has now won 4-of-5 in the conference and 9-of-9 overall. The Warriors are led by the inside-outside combo of Michelle McDonald, with 16 points and 8 boards per game, and Katie Wolff, with 14 points, 3 assists and 2 steals.
Women's coach of the year candidates to date include Karla Nelson and Scott Ballard of 2nd place Moorhead and Winona, respectively.
Among the top newcomers are guard Haley Thomforde of Moorhead (from Eastview) with 4 assists and 1.67 steals; and Beth Albertson and Abby Busch (from Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop) of Winona State with 7 ppg apiece.