By Drew Schoenbauer – [email protected]
The Blazer basketball team closed out the 2016-17 season on Feb. 24 with a 52-75 loss to eventual MIAC Champion St. Thomas.
The Blazers ended with a 16-11 overall record and finished fourth in the MIAC going 11-7 in conference play.
St. Thomas, ranked No. 2 nationally in Division III, went on to beat No. 13 Gustavus in the conference final. The Tommies extended their perfect season to 27-0 while the Gusties fell to 25-2—both of their losses coming at the hands of UST. Gustavus received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so both Gustavus and St. Thomas will be representing the MIAC in the tournament.
Although the Tommies had proven they are one of the best teams in the nation, that didn’t mean the Blazers had no chance.
“I knew it would take an incredible effort,” Head Coach Mike Durbin said. “We hadn’t played well [at St. Thomas] earlier in the season. During the game, and certainly for more than a quarter and a half, I felt really good with how we were playing offensively. St. Thomas then made their run in the third quarter and pushed away.”
Overall, Head Coach Mike Durbin says he was happy with how the season turned out.
“It was very satisfying,” Durbin said. “So many good things for us to take away. There were some intangible things that were as good as they’ve ever been. I thought our team chemistry was really good. On the floor, we were incredible defensively and it carried us most of the year.”
Coach Durbin talked about a number of things he really enjoyed about the season, but one point he emphasized was how well the team played on game nights in St. Joseph.
“We were incredible and really special at home,” Durbin said. “We went 10-2 at home, and that’s a huge
improvement from the last two or three years. Overall, there were a lot of things that were really fun about the year.”
Junior post/forward Niki Fokken also had positive things to say about the year.
“Overall, I think we had a really good season,” Fokken said. “We showed a lot of improvement from last year, and I think we’re heading in a positive direction and need to keep going at it for next year.”
Fokken also echoed Durbin’s point regarding the team’s chemistry this season.
“I guess my favorite part of the season was just getting to spend time with all my teammates,” Fokken said. “I don’t really get tired of them at all. It’s kind of funny, you think you’d get annoyed with them, but that doesn’t happen with this team. You just love them even more.”
Four players from the roster will be graduating this year: point guard Ali Newton, wings Annie Dittberner and Macy Kelly and forward Grace Pouliot. Both Durbin and Fokken had only good things to say about the soon-to-be graduates.
“Their leadership has been beyond special,” Durbin said. “We didn’t have any seniors a year ago, so they really have been our leaders for the last two years. Their contributions on the floor were certainly important, but I think their biggest impact and where I’ll appreciate their legacy more is what they did off the floor.”
Fokken, one of the four juniors on this year’s team, also had high praise.
“[The seniors] are just wonderful, wonderful people,” Fokken said. “Some of the most amazing women I’ve met. Every moment with them was a blast. I’m really going to miss them.”
Feature photo courtesy of CSB Athletic Media Relations