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Cougar women open season on the road

Christopher Butler

UMM Sports Information

The University of Minnesota, Morris women's basketball team learned how to overcome adversity early in 2008. A third of the way into the season they lost senior Tynell Kocer for the year. The team might have gone south from there, but it didn't happen, according to fourth-year head coach Tim Grove.

"Tynell was our leading scorer and our emotional leader. It might have been a big blow to us. Instead we rallied to a 9-0 conference start. That said a lot about our team."

It also meant moving players around in the lineup, sometimes to positions with which they weren't comfortable.

"But everyone adjusted so well, and we played really unselfish basketball, which saved the season, in my mind," Grove said.

With this extremely coachable squad, Grove and the Cougar women posted a 14-12 record (11-3 conference) while advancing to the UMAC semifinals.

The 2009-2010 edition of the Cougar women's basketball team will have significant roles to fill with the departures of Kocer, forward Coresa Leighty, and point guard Jaime Rainey, but two returning all-UMAC players and a host of talented recruits are giving Grove confidence for another strong season.

"We'll miss [Rainey, Leighty, and Kocer] but I think we're more talented top to bottom this season. Now we need to work on being good as a team," Grove says. "I expect we'll be able to compete for the conference championship."

Back court

"NikkiDiJenni" will enter the UMM athletic lexicon this season as shorthand for their three talented returning guards: senior all-UMAC Nikki Washek, junior Diane Blommel, and Jenni Noordmans of Hancock.

Washek was the third-leading scorer last season, hitting 40 percent of her three-point attempts. Blommel stepped into a starting role when Kocer went down, playing valuable minutes handling the ball and making 37 steals on defense. Noordmans had quality minutes off the bench in 24 games with her fundamental offensive play and defensive hustle.

"I expect these three to hit the floor running this season," says Grove.

Two excellent junior college transfers will give the Cougars' backcourt additional firepower. Tara Thielke was a 1,000-point scorer at Hancock High School and all-division player at Ridgewater Community College. Thielke favors the point, but can also play wing. Brandi Cresap, an all-division player from Central Lakes Community College, will give the Cougars more quickness on the wing.

Grove also expects significant contributions from a trio of first-year recruits: Jessica Benson, Kelsey Erickson, and Abby McDaniel.

Front court

Junior Steph Roggenbuck of Osakis, a first-team all-UMAC performer, returns to bolster a front court that will be among the toughest and most productive in the UMAC. Roggenbuck led the Cougars in rebounding last season at 6.5 per game while scoring nearly 14 points per contest.

Two seniors and a sophomore with plenty of experience will join Roggenbuck in the paint. Senior Kara Norris is scrappy and a tireless worker on defense. Senior Joy Heysse, a two-sport athlete with track, gives the Cougars additional toughness on the boards. Sophomore Kaila Lindsay shifts from soccer to basketball in the winter and could provide important relief for any of the post positions.

Grove calls first-year forward Emily Mehr "a huge addition to our team." Mehr comes to UMM as the leading scorer in Aitkin High School history and as the reigning Brainerd Dispatch player of the year. In the first three weeks of practice, Mehr has already established herself as a player to contend with.

"She never wants to be out of position," Grove says. "She's a great student of the game."

Amy Balk will join Grove on the sidelines for a third season.

"I hope she's here as long as I am," Grove says. "She can coach all aspects of the game and she's great with our players and recruiting."

Jaime Rainey may have graduated after a very successful UMM playing career, but fortunately, she isn't going far. She'll serve as a student coach this season.

The Cougar women open the season on the road at Mayville State on Nov. 17. They host their home opener against the University of Mary on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 3 p.m.