Last season was a return to success for the men’s basketball program. The Raiders boasted a 26-7 overall record as well as capturing the GPAC title against conference rival heavyweight Dordt.
However, the team fell short of their national championship goal by losing in the second round of the national tournament.
With 12 years of experience as Northwestern’s Head Coach, Kris Korver realizes that nothing comes without effort in the GPAC.
“We need to expect nothing to be easy,” Korver said. “Nothing will be handed to us. There will be no easy games. We need to expect it to be hard and prepare each and every day in practice and as we journey through the season, to do the little things better than everyone else.”
With a mostly seasoned and battle-tested roster, the Raiders know it is now or never to achieve their lofty championship goals.
“The expectations for this season are simple,” said senior post Stu Goslinga. “We need to find a way down to the national tournament in Branson and once we get there, we need to find a way to win and keep advancing. We have to take it one game at a time and play to our potential.”
The Raiders return senior forward and four-year starter Daniel Van Kalsbeek to the lineup this season. Van Kalsbeek averaged 10.9 points per game for the Raiders last season and led the team with 21 blocked shots.
Van Kalsbeek entered the 1,000 point club last season and has two NAIA All-American honorable mentions in his career.
Goslinga also adds years of starting experience to the frontcourt duo. Goslinga’s aggressive style of play contributed to averaging 11.9 points per game as well as 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Goslinga earned GPAC honorable mentions for his play.
“Dan and Stu are two post players who command attention,” Korver said. “When they play with toughness, physicality and are in attack mode, they can be a handful for opponents.”
The backcourt also provides a veteran presence. Senior shooting guard Ben Miller averaged 13.6 points per game last season as well as leading the team in rebounding with 7.7 per game. Miller earned first team All-GPAC honors as well as third team All-American honors last season.
Returning starting guard Zack Leeper also provides veteran experience. Leeper averaged 12 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and earned GPAC honorable mention honors last season.
Senior guard Josh Vander Plaats and forward Jacey Hoegh also return with three years of varsity experience under their belts. Sophomore forwards Will Hieber and Levi Ettleman also return with a varsity letter and hope to contribute more this season.
“We have players like Miller, Leeper and Vander Plaats who have been in a lot of big games,” Korver said. “These returning players need to play well early in the season as we come together as a unit.”
The Raiders will rely on junior transfer Rob Gill, junior Ian Mozeleski and freshman Joey Habtemariam to fill the point guard void.
“Awareness, maturity, toughness, mental toughness and creativity are all traits needed from that point guard position to help a team play as one unit and perform together on all cylinders,” Korver said. “It will be fun to see these individuals grow in confidence.”
“We need to see this group find their roles and blossom in those roles,” Korver said. “Leadership will be a huge key. Unselfishness will be another key. It will be rewarding to see this group put team above self and compete like crazy each and every day,”
The Raiders host the Raider Classic this weekend, playing at 8 p.m. tonight and 4 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.