• Minnesotans Concordia, UM Crookston and Southwest State
• Outsiders Augustana, Mary, Northern, Upper Iowa and Wayne, plus Minot State and Sioux Falls who will be joining in the fall of 2012
Through it all, the balance of power historically has remained with the old Minnesota teachers colleges, though there are obvious exceptions, as in women's basketball. This past year Wayne, Northern and Augustana finished 1-2-5, and Wayne has a pair of 2nds in 2010 and 2008 to go with its regular season title this past year. And Augustana has a 3rd, a 4th and a 5th the past 3 years. Sanity was largely restored this past post-season, when Winona won at Augustana, then defeated Wayne. Meanwhile, Concordia defeated Northern and the 2 Minnesotans--Winona and Concordia--played for the post-season title.
With the arrival of "outside" opponents like Augustana, Northern and Wayne, plus Concordia (St. Paul), it has become harder for the Minnesotan "teachers" to dominate. But the NSIC has become a powerhouse conference--2 men's national titles (Winona), 1 in women's basketball (Mankato), 3 in volleyball (Concordia), a couple in football (UMD); you get the idea--and the "teachers" still account for most of that success.
Still, the NSIC has had a hard time in women's basketball with the Rocky Mountain Conference, with whom it is paired in the NCAA Central Region. It was only in 2009, when Minnesota-Mankato won the national title, that the NSIC has survived the region out of the last 5 years.
I have no idea if that is going to change, I don't know what the prospects are for those RMAC teams. But I do know this. Women's basketball in the NSIC--and, specifically, women's basketball at Minnesota's "teachers" colleges--is going to be better and deeper next year than it has ever been. Whoever finishes 7th may be the best 7th place team ever, and the balance of power will shift back toward Minnesota.
All of these thoughts were triggered, by the way, by the announcement that Angela Christianson, formerly of Alexandria High and Drake, is transferring to Minnesota-Moorhead. Christianson was the 2nd best girl in the coaches all-star game in 2010 (behind Katrina Newman of Barnum, who recently was named Freshmen of the Year in the NSIC for UMD) and she scored a respectable 8 ppg as a freshman last year at Drake. Clearly she could play D1 ball.
So throw Christianson and a variety of high-profile freshmen-to-be in to the mix and here's how it looks to me right now.
NSIC Women's Basketball Pre-Season Forecast 2011-2012
1. Winona State. The Warriors finished 4th at 14-8 last year, then won 3 games to win the post-season title. 6-0 junior forward Michelle McDonald was 1 of 2 women to make all-conference and all-tournament, and 5-6 sophomore guard Kate Wolff made the all-tournament 5. They scored 16 and 12 ppg during the regular season. They lose several seniors but have 3 more guards back who played more than 10 minutes, and their 10-minutes-or-more returnees accounted for about 44 ppg among them. And that doesn't count Michelle Tobin (Eden Prairie) and Lizzi Naumann (Totino-Grace, who also started her college career at Drake) in the post, but the fact is the Warriors will be looking for more production from the 2 of them in 2012. Still, this is a team that has already won a conference title and it has at least 8 productive women coming back, including 2 go-to type players. Plus Scott Ballard knows how to coach. He's been around for 30 years, including 6 at Winona during which time a program that had never won a thing has become a winner. That is a lot of plusses.
2. UMD. The perennially competitive Bulldogs were down for a few years after long-time coach Karen Stromme retired and her hand-picked successor, Sue Fiero, resigned and left coaching after just one year. Now, Annette Wiles is headed for her 4th year and she is bringing the Bulldogs back. Well, she's got lots of help. Exhibit A is Newman, the NSIC's freshman of the year who scored 11 ppg last year. That was 2nd on the team to junior guard Lindsay Miller with 12. 3 other players played 10 minutes or more and one of them, junior forward Shelley Stemper from Becker, made the all-tournament 5 in 2010. Their returning ten-minutes-or-more players scored 43 ppg last year. It's doubtful that freshmen-to-be Alyssa Kerkhoff (NRHEG) and Jessica Newman (Barnum) will make much of a difference next year, but someday they will.
3. Moorhead. The Dragons were 5th, 3rd and 5th but then 7th at 11-11 in 2011 despite having all-American Angie Jetvig on their side. Now Jetvig returns for her senior year, having scored 19 ppg in 34 minutes, and now her help will have a lot more maturity than last year. Mainly they include guards Haley Thomforde (Eastview) and Christianson. Thomforde was selected for the NSIC freshman all-star team. She and Christianson have the potential to be the dominant guard pair in the NSIC before they're done, unless it's Kerkhoff and Jessica Newman. Marissa Yernatich (Duluth East), Morgan Zabel (Northfield), Brittany Mayclin (Benilde) and Morgan Strese (Brandon-Evansville) also return, for a total of 64.5 ppg returning, not counting Christianson's 8 points in D1. Freshman Amber Huntington will also contribute in time, having scored 15 ppg for the South Dakota state champ. Coach Karla Nelson will match wiles, you might say, with Ballard and Wiles. She has won 194 games in 11 winning seasons out of 12 years on the job.
4. Wayne State. Wayne loses just about everybody except conference player of the year Ashley Arlen, but that is quite enough.
5. Concordia. Coach Paul Fessler loses his three-headed monster, guards Maurika Hickman, Jineen Williams and Zoraa Quoie, but he is reloading quite nicely, thank you. Leading the way will be all-freshman selections 6-1 center-forward Jodi Batzel (Dover-Eyota) and guard Rachel Hansen (Minnehaha). You can never count Fessler out, as is evidenced by his 10 Sweet 16s in 16 years on the job.
6. Northern. Northern returns all-conference post Krista Rabenberg and starting point guard Emily Becken (Centennia, MN). Curt Frederickson has been on the job for 31 years.
7. Augustana. The Augies have guard Molly Hayes and forward Alex Feeney returning, among others. Hayes was all-conference in 2011.
8. Mankato. The Mavericks will try to regroup after a precipitous fall from the top of the NSIC and D2 in 2009 to 8th and 9th place in the conference the past 2 years. Ali Wilkinson, Jennie Noreen (Albany) and Laura Weber (Eden Prairie) will lead the way, along with a big freshman class led by Aubrey Davis (Eden Prairie) and Jamie Bresnahan (Edina).
10. UM Crookston. The recently downtrodden Golden Eagles have made giant strides under coach Mike Roysland. Jamie Zelinsky and Bri Zabel led the charge and will be missed terribly now that they've moved on. Brittani Wiese and Carly Rothstein, both from St. Michael-Albertville, seem ready to pick up the slack.
11. St. Cloud State. Things have not gone well in the Granite City since coach Lori Fish jilted Mankato State to return home to St. Cloud. Or maybe it's since the graduation of Erika Quigley. But either way, the Huskies have missed the NSIC playoffs 3 of the past 4 years. Hopes for 2012 rest largely with guards Sam Price, Amanda Wagner (New Prague) and Nicole Anderson (Cannon Falls). Price made the all-frosh team last year.
12. Southwest MN State.
13. Bemidji State. Both made the playoffs as recently as 2008 but have had precious little success since. Bemidji seems to have the better of the recruiting classes with Erica Trabing, Prior Lake, and Jessi Corrick of Grand Rapids coming in.
14. Upper Iowa.
In the playoffs, watch for Concordia to surprise Wayne at Wayne, while #1, 2 and 3 Winona, UMD and Moorhead also advance. Winona and Moorhead meet in the finals, and #3 Moorhead is the surprise winner.
C- Krista Rabenberg, Northern, 6-6 senior
F- Ashley Arlen, Wayne, 6-2 senior
F- Angie Jetvig, Moorhead, 6-2 senior (Hawley), Player of the Year
G- Molly Hayes, Augustana, 5-6 senior
G- Katie Wolff, Winona, 5-6 junior
C- Laurie Tyson, Minnesota-Crookston, 6-4 junior (Rosemount)
F- Michelle McDonald, Winona, 6-0 senior
F- Katrina Newman, UMD, 5-11 sophomore (Barnum)
G- Angela Christianson, Moorhead, 6-0 sophomore (Alexandria)
G- Rachel Hansen, Concordia, 5-10 sophomore (Minnehaha)
F- Jodi Batzel, Concordia, 6-1 sophomore (Dover-Eyota)
F- Shelly Stemper, UMD, 6-0 senior (Becker)
F- Alex Feeney, Augustana, 5-10 senior
G- Haley Thomforde, Moorhead, 5-8 sophomore (Eastview)
G- Sam Price, St. Cloud State, 5-9 sophomore
Amber Huntington, Moorhead, G (Sisseton, SD), Freshman of the Year
Jamie Bresnahan, Mankato, F (Edina)
Valerie Sahr, SW State, F (United South Central)
Aubrey Davis, Mankato, G (Eden Prairie)
Riley Nordgaard, Augustana, G (Canby)
Coach of the Year--Karla Nelson, Moorhead