The St. Olaf men’s basketball team is in the midst of arguably its most successful run in school history. It has reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last three seasons, including two MIAC championships in that span. In the 2014-15 season, the Oles reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division III tournament in a thrilling postseason run.
The 2016-17 season will provide many new challenges for St. Olaf. The Oles will need to replace 1000-point scorers Ben Figini ’16, Justin Pahl ’16 and Riley Aeikens ’16, as well as former starting point guard Evan O’Dorisio, who transferred after last season. When asked about his expectations for the season, head coach Dan Kosmoski stated that the goals are the same as always.
This year’s team is exceptionally young, featuring 10 total freshmen and sophomores on the roster, but there remains a blend of leadership and experience from past teams. Austin Majeskie ’17 is the lone returning starter, and Robert Tobroxen ’18 garnered substantial minutes off the bench last year. Kosmoski also expects Sam Lagus ’17 and Daniel Katuka ’17 to play increased roles this season, as their valuable experience should help lead the charge and teach the younger players as they develop. Guards Ben Scheffley ’19 and Sam Stensgard ’19 will help fill out the backcourt, and Frank Delaney ’19 will assist in an effort to replace the score- production void left by Figini’s departure.
The regular season doesn’t start until Nov. 15, but the Oles tipped off their season in an exhibition against Division II Southwest Minnesota State on Nov. 3. The Oles fittingly sported some sleek new uniforms to accompany their new team build. While the Oles came up short in the box score, losing 80-55, Kosmoski was pleased with the defensive efforts of his team and their willingness to battle for rebounds with physically imposing opponents.
St. Olaf kept the score close in the first half, trailing only 10 at the intermission. However, the athleticism, size and strength of the visiting Mustangs took over in the second half, creating a deficit that the Oles couldn’t overcome.
The game does not count against the Oles’ record and provided many learning experiences for a relatively inexperienced team that shot 48 percent from the floor in the contest, with Majeskie leading the team with 13 points. Perhaps more importantly, every player participated in a game against an abnormally tough opponent. Considering that only five of the MIAC’s 11 teams posted a winning record last season, Kosmoski remains optimistic, claiming that the Mustangs are “likely the best team we’ll see all year.”
The Oles open their conference season at home on Nov. 29 against a tough Bethel team that, like the Oles, made the conference playoffs last winter and lost a good portion of senior leadership to graduation. That contest should give a good indication of where St. Olaf stands in the MIAC following the departure of their top scorers and the introduction of young starters.
Looking even further ahead, the Oles will experience a stretch at the beginning of February in which four out of their five games are against Hamline, St. Mary’s, Gustavus and Macalester, the bottom four MIAC teams last year. These two weeks should give St. Olaf confidence and momentum heading into what’s sure to be a high-stakes contest at home against regular season conference champion St. Thomas on Feb. 13. Mark your calenders and expect an emotional battle, possibly to determine the MIAC regular season champion.Although the team has lost a lot of talent over the offseason, Kosmoski is confident that this year’s squad will be able to compete for another NCAA tournament berth by playing as a collective unit.
“We still have to learn how to dance together,” Kosmoski said.