MARSHALL - Losses are going to accumulate for a new coach trying to build up a roster and develop young talent, and that was the case for Southwest Minnesota State women's basketball coach Allison Kruger during her first two years leading the Mustangs.
After two seasons with a combined 13-39 record, Kruger feels she now has the talent, the experience and the system in place to take the Mustangs to next level in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
"Our focus now is that it's time to progress," Kruger said. "We're not rebuilding. We've got kids who have experience, we have kids who logged a lot of minutes last year and our focus is it's time to go. We're not going to be OK with a season like we had last year in terms of the record."
The players share Kruger's belief that this season will be different than the past two. Many of the Mustangs found playing time last year as freshmen and sophomores, and battled through some inconsistency while showing flashes of promise. After a season of game experience, they are confident they can provide more steady production for the team.
"Last year didn't work out so well for us," said junior guard Bree Holleman, the team's top returning scorer (10.0 ppg), "but this year is our year and we're ready. We're ready to show everyone what we can do."
The Mustangs lost their leading scorer and rebounder last year with the graduation of center Abby Kenealy, but feel they have added pieces to replace her production and then some. They also expect to play at a different pace this season with some freshmen and junior college transfers adding depth to the roster.
"You'll see a different style of basketball from us, which I think is going to be more exciting," Kruger said. "We're much more athletic as a team this year and we're really going to push the tempo on other teams. We've got a lot of kids who have talent, so we're going to play a lot of kids, we're going to get up and down, we're going to turn up the pressure defensively and we're going to push the tempo on offense."
The Mustangs opened practice for the 2012-13 season on Monday and have fit in four practices over the past two days. In that short time, they've seen firsthand what impact the added depth can have for the team.
"We're definitely going to be more of a run-and-gun team this year, that's what we're working on," said junior forward Hannah Beeler, who started 16 games and finished third on the team in scoring last year. "Since we have that competition within our team, we know we can go hard for three minutes and then our teammates have our back to come in and fill the same position and work just as hard as we did."
At guard, the Mustangs return sophomore Hope Bonlander, who played in all 26 games last year, as well as sophomore Whitney Miller and Nathalie Svensson, who is the lone senior on the roster.
Junior Ellen Degler will join the team following the SMSU volleyball season and will be joined in the post by sophomore center Emilee Duske. Junior forward Val Sahr, who missed last season with an injury, will be another player looking for playing time.
A couple of junior college transfers are expected to see significant action this season. Junior forward Alison Nagel earned second team JUCO All-American honors last year, and guard Rebekah Rolling was a first team all-region honoree. Both played at Iowa Central Community College.
The Mustangs also have four true freshman, some of whom are expected to contribute immediately. Kruger said Annessa Rosch of St. Cloud, and Mikayla Saathoff, who played at Estelline (S.D.) will be competing for the starting point guard spot this season.
"They're two true point guards who are doing a good job for us," Kruger said. "They'll be sharing that position and I'm very confident and comfortable with them taking over that position as freshmen."
SMSU will have a big test to start the season, as the Mustangs' first game will be against the Creighton Bluejays Oct. 31 in Omaha, Neb. Creighton won the Missouri Valley Conference championship last season to advance to the NCAA Division I Tournament.
The Mustangs' first home game isn't until Dec. 1, when SMSU takes on NSIC newcomer Sioux Falls.