Men's basketball bids seniors farewell

March 19, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Successful 2013-2014 season ends with loss to Tommies

Sports | Kristine Schmidt for The Clarion

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The men's basketball team bid farewell to eight seniors, from left: Derek Wolhowe, Kyle Zimmermann, Quinn Gorski, Pete Sorensen, Tyler Schmidt, Luke Buttenhoff, Christian Skinner and John DeCleene.| Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Carl Schmuland

Among MIAC basketball circles, expectations for the 2013-2014 Royals were low. The team lost five seniors to graduation, including an All-American, and many questions loomed over the program after it replaced the head coach this off-season. The preseason rankings had Bethel slotted as the ninth-ranked team in the 11-team conference.

Little did they know that this season had much more in store for the Royals. The 7-2 start was the best since 2008, and the Royals headed into January with a lot of confidence.

“We knew we were better than the preseason rankings showed,” Senior Derek Wolhowe said. “We were out to surprise the rest of the conference with what we knew we could do.”

After a short holiday hiatus, the Royals returned to the hardwood with three new faces from the football team. Then, in the first game back from break, Kyle Zimmermann, the only returning All-Conference player, suffered an injury that ended his senior season. The Royals were determined to keep their confidence up, led by first-year head coach Doug Novak.

“Getting a new coach there was a lot of excitement around the team and the whole program,” sophomore Kyle Von-Schmidt Pauli said.

“Energy and passion was injected into the program with the coming of a new coach,” senior Quinn Gorski added.

The team had eight seniors returning, which provided experience and knowledge about the game and made the transition to a new head coach easier.

“With eight seniors, the leadership was spread among all of us,” Gorski said. “The combination of the leadership and game-ready freshman really contributed to our success.”

Freshman Brycen Wojta led the team in a number of categories, averaging 14.8 points, 3.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game. His roommate Jackson Canfield averaged 7.2 points per game.

The Royals lost their final three games of the regular season, backing their way into the playoffs as the number 6 seed. Facing Augsburg, the 3 seed, in the first round was daunting. Losing twice to the Auggies in the regular season, the Royals stepped on the court with redemption in mind. The Royals took down the Auggies 70-67, surprising the conference with a sizeable upset.

Unfortunately, the Royals' season ended Friday night in a 74-59 loss at the hands of the top-ranked St. Thomas Tommies in the semifinals. Ending the season with a record of 14- 13 overall, the Bethel Royals stepped off the court for the last time this season.

The unknown of a new coaching staff, the experience of eight seniors, tremendous contributions from freshmen and a season-ending injury to a major contributor made the 2013-2014 season one to remember for the Royals.

One thing remained consistent this season: the team's pre-game motto: “Together, we attack.”

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