Article reprinted courtesy of Fargo Forum and reporter Eric Peterson
MOORHEAD — It’s been nearly a year since Concordia has played a basketball game, a hiatus that is slated to end Wednesday, Feb. 3, when both the men’s and women’s teams will open their seasons.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the season and also condensed the schedule to seven Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference games. Both Cobbers teams are also slated to play two nonconference games in this abbreviated season.
“I think the kids are just so grateful,” said Cobbers head women’s coach Kim Wagers. “For our (coaching) staff, it’s a little more of a relief feeling. It’s excitement, too, and just happy for the kids to be able to get out there and compete.”
The Cobbers women play at St. Benedict at 7 p.m. Wednesday, while the men host St. John’s at 7 p.m. Wednesday with no fans allowed. While both games are against MIAC opponents, both are counted as nonconference games. League play for both Concordia teams starts Saturday against St. Thomas.
“For some of these kids this is going to be the first time they’ve played an organized basketball game in a year,” said Cobbers men’s head coach Tyler Bormann, who is in his first season as Concordia’s head coach. “There are so many areas that we need to continue to get better at. We’re trying to stress patience, while also being excited that we’re able to play. Sometimes those things are difficult to pair.”
The Cobbers men went 1-19 in conference play last season and 3-22 overall. Bormann said it’s paramount his team takes advantage of the nine games scheduled this season along with practices to help this program build toward the top of the MIAC standings.
“There is no way to microwave this and cut corners,” Bormann said. “There are no shortcuts. … This is a multistep, multiyear process of trying to build our program.”
The MIAC announced in mid-January that the league would only have regular-season competition with no MIAC postseason for winter sports, including basketball, due to COVID-19. Bormann said health and safety protocols add another layer of challenges to this season.
“It’s really up to us to manage and be understanding and comfortable with that stuff. Your mind goes to a lot of different places,” Bormann said. “How do we undertake traveling, eating on the road and still trying to maintain social distancing. … It’s easy as a coach for those things to distract you from just getting your team ready to play.”
Wagers is in her second season as head coach with the Cobbers, leading Concordia to a 9-11 league mark with a 11-14 overall record last season. Wagers returns all her key players from last season, including juniors Mary Sem and Autumn Thompson and sophomore Emily Beseman. Wagers expects Sem, Thompson and Beseman to be the team’s “Big 3” when it comes to scoring. Sem averaged 14.1 points per game a season ago, while Thompson (13.3 points) and Beseman (11.7) also averaged in double digits scoring.
Wagers said conditioning is a concern as the season starts. The Cobbers started practice on Jan. 11 after an extended break that started near mid-November.
“I think it made them appreciate it a little bit more when we did get back in January,” Wagers said of the break. “The kids were super grateful to get back in the gym. You can tell that they are excited to be back in the gym.”
The Cobber men lost their top three scorers from last season. Senior forward Jacob Fredrickson is the team’s top returning scoring, averaging 6.4 points per game a season ago. Sophomore guard Braeton Motschenbacher, from Fargo Davies, averaged 6.1 points per contest during his freshman season.
“I don’t think expectations outside of our program are extremely high right now and that’s OK,” Bormann said. “Our guys expect to compete. We expect to compete.”