After a landmark season for Forester basketball with both men’s and women’s teams reaching the NAIA Division II national tournament, this year’s teams have a lot to live up to. Both teams participated in the first ever Crossroads Media Day Sept. 8 along with other conference rivals where preseason polls were released.
Gone is the era of the duo of Shane “Milkman” Merryman and TJ Short. Breakout sensation Derek Hinen returns with more of a leadership role placed on his shoulders for his sophomore season. The Foresters return 6’ 10” senior Alec Peterson as well as critical guard Tyler Ault. Sophomore Daniel Woll, known for his crazy dunks, steals and energy on the court, will be responsible for firing up the Forester offensive drive.
“Big Dan is a big time player,” Hinen said. “Give him the rock and great things are going to happen for our squad. Rims beware because he’s going to rock them.”
Head coach Ty Platt admits this season will be full of challenges, but the team is excited to meet them head on.
“The loss of Shane and TJ will be a challenge, but we have a lot of young talented players ready to take their place,” Platt said. “10 of the 13 players on the team are either sophomores or freshman, so I am sure there will be some growing pains. They are very talented, though, and will be ready to go when called upon.”
The Foresters secured a fourth place ranking in a Crossroads League preseason poll behind Indiana Wesleyan University, Bethel College and Saint Francis University. Hinen was the only Forester named first team.
Platt brings in five freshmen, including his son Kyle.
“All the freshman will contribute to our team’s success this season as they play different positions and bring unique qualities to the team,” Platt said. “It’ll be a fun group to watch develop.”
After claiming second in the Crossroads League and finishing with an impressive 24-8 record last year, including a 14 game winning streak last season, Platt expects to have another successful season with his young talent, he said.
Returning four of the top five scorers from last year’s roster save standout senior scorer Pazia Speed, head coach Lori Culler is ready to lead her alma mater in her 29th year at the helm of Lady Forester basketball. Grabbing a laudable second place ranking in the preseason poll just behind dominant rival Indiana Wesleyan University, the Foresters had two players named to the All-Conference team with Amelia Recker notching first team and Miranda Palmer getting an honorable mention on the second team.
“We are excited about the upcoming season,” Culler said. “The majority of the squad knows what it’s like to play in our league and how hard they have to work to compete. Having been picked to finish second in the league, we definitely will have a target on our back and will need to mentally prepare to take everyone’s best shot every time we take the floor.”
Senior point guard Courtney Baker, who had a breakout season last year, will be a leader on the court. Totaling 1,039 minutes last year, she scored 297 points while averaging 9.3 points per game with a 41 total field goal shooting percentage and adding 72 steals.
“As a point guard, Courtney acts as a great leader on the floor for our team,” sophomore Gina Eisenhut said. “Her scrappiness and hard work help spark the team during games. However, she also thrives at leading by example on and off the court.”
Culler credited Baker for being a “big reason for the success that we had this past year.”
“She’s just so quick, and she handles the ball extremely well,” Culler said. “She’s an unselfish player, but really she just got us going in transition and people had to plan for her quickness. She could get the ball up the court in a hurry and got a lot of shots for her teammates based on just her quickness alone.”
Joining Baker in key returns are Kelsey Hubble, Palmer and Recker.
Going into her junior year, Recker is known for her double-double ability as the top returning scorer and top rebounder for the Foresters. With the 17th best field goal percentage in NAIA Division II, Culler said Recker will continue to be a versatile point generator in the post.
Meanwhile, Palmer, who generated attention when she developed her lethal 3-point shot mid-season last year, brags the second best three-point field goal percentage in the country, shooting 45 percent while averaging 10 points per game. Culler is looking for her to step up again this season.
“She did the bulk of her damage the second time through conference while she was getting more confident with her role on the team,” Culler said. “We’re hopeful that her step-back three will still be working for her again this year.”
Three freshmen, Miranda White, Alexus Rockwell, and Brooke Yoder join the team this year. Rockwell shot over 50 percent from behind the arc in her high school career and scored over 1,300 career points.
With the team reaching the Sweet Sixteen round in the national tournament last year, this year’s team will have their work cut out for them against strong conference foes.
“I have a lot of confidence that this team will rise to the challenge and do what it takes to be successful this year,” Culler said.