NEW ULM - Coming off back to back years in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference championship game, the Martin Luther College women's basketball has the firepower and experience necessary for yet another return trip.
The Knights finished last year 12-14 overall and 9-5 in the UMAC. This year, the Knights return four starters and have added a dimension of depth, which was a glaring hole last year.
With two straight trips to the UMAC championship game, coach Lawrence Czer sees this year's team with the potential for more.
"We can have a really successful season and I think we can win this league," Czer said. "We are quick, we're athletic, we have great work ethic and for the first time I've got 15 basketball players on the roster."
The Knights return five players who started games last year, including All-UMAC performers Hannah Hackbarth, Alex Anthon, and Brittney Gossen.
"It helps to return experienced athletes, especially since we played in the championship and the year before," Gossen said. "It helps with the camaraderie of the team also."
Hackbarth, a junior guard, led the Knights in scoring a year ago by averaging 12.2 points per game and also led the Knights with 59 three pointers made.
Junior Alex Anthon returns to the starting lineup for the third straight year. Anthon averaged 10 points per game, while leading the Knights with 89 assists.
Gossen returns for her third year as the point guard. The senior averaged 9 ppg last year, and is one of the vocal leaders of the Knights.
"Her motor never stops running and she is team-oriented and unselfish," Czer said. "More importantly she shows tremendous work ethic and she leads by example."
Sophomore Leah Nass (8.0 ppg) and senior Rebecca Engelbrecht (6.8 ppg) will start in the frontcourt. Engelbrecht was the leading rebounder for the Knights a year ago, while Nass showed flashes of potential in her first year.
The difference between from last year and this year for the Knights is the depth.
"This year we have the numbers," Gossen said. "We have the legs and the capability to run up and down the court without getting as tired."
The Knights will be counting on transfer guard Erin Schmeling to provide immediate depth.
"She's fast, very quick and fun to watch," Czer said. "Between her and Gossen, they'll put a lot of pressure on in the backcourt."
A pair of incoming freshman will also be asked to make an impact in the frontcourt. Mariah Schoof, a taller wing, and Faith Schroeder a smaller, physical post, have looked good in the preseason and will make an impact.
"Schoof will be a legitimate offensive threat at this level," Czer said. "Schroeder is a hard worker and is not going to back down."
Junior Sara Willems (3.4 ppg) returns to add further depth to the frontcourt.
The Knights enter the preseason UMAC poll picked fourth, but Gossen and the Knights have their sights set on much more than that.
"We have our sights set on going back to the UMAC championship," Gossen said. "I'm excited about the team we have and how much they love basketball."
MLC opens up the regular season on Friday against Wisconsin-Oshkosh at the Wisconsin-Stevens Point Tournament. The opener is at 6 p.m.