SAULT STE. MARIE - Lake Superior State has been anxiously awaiting the chance to serve as host of the GLIAC v. GLVC Challenge and will get its turn when the basketball season officially opens this week.
The LSSU, Michigan Tech, Lewis and Wisconsin-Parkside men's and women's basketball teams will compete in the fourth annual tournament, which will pit region representatives from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Great Lakes Valley Conference against each other on Saturday and Sunday at Bud Cooper Gymnasium.
Saturday's schedule begins with the LSSU women playing Lewis at 1 p.m., followed by the men's game at 3 p.m. The Michigan Tech v. Wisconsin-Parkside women's game will be at 5:30 p.m., followed by the men's game at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday's slate includes the LSSU v. UW-P women's game at 1 p.m., followed by the men's game at 3 p.m. MTU and Lewis will play a women's game at 5:30 p.m. and a men's game at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $6 per day for adults and $3 for children. GLIAC and GLVC passes will not be honored. All four LSSU games will be broadcast live on WSOO 1230 AM. A pay-per-view video feed of all eight games will be available on the B2 Network (http://www.b2livetv.com/partner_members.asp?id=23) for $7 per game. Live stats for all eight games will be available by accessing http://livestats.prestosports.com/lssu.
The LSSU men's team finished 0-2 at the 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 GLIAC v. GLVC Challenges, and last year's losses were part of a 0-7 start. LSSU coach Steve Hettinga has a team with a much-improved confidence level going into this year's season openers.
"I think we will play with a lot more confidence and leadership, and we are playing at home," Hettinga said. "We know who our competition is and that we have our work cut out for us."
LSSU's veteran team, led by seniors Ryan Kuhl, Mark Morse and Tim VanOudheusden, is coming off Monday's 112-69 exhibition loss at sixth-ranked Michigan State. Morse led the Lakers with 19 points.
"That was a positive experience on all counts," Hettinga said. "We can take a lot of positives from that game, and our weaknesses show up a lot better when a team exploits us like they did at times. With their style of play and the pace of the game, when we did things right it was a success. When we did things horribly, a team like Michigan State could definitely take advantage."
In other men's exhibitions involving this weekend's opponents, it was Michigan 72, Michigan Tech 55; Lewis falling to Bradley 74-61, DePaul 66-53 and Illinois 62-56; and Wisconsin-Milwaukee defeating Wisconsin-Parkside, 75-59.
Both Lewis and UW-P were NCAA Tournament qualifiers last season and return most of their starters.
The Lake Superior State women's team is off to a 3-0 start after winning the Division II Disney Tip-Off East Coast Classic Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. Senior center Alyssa VanderWal was named the tournament's most-valuable player, and senior center Jackie Armstrong was named to the all-tournament team. The only down side of the trip was losing forward Jill Walton to an ankle injury.
"We are ready to get out there and get the regular season underway," LSSU coach Jamie Pewinski said. "We've spent the past week or so trying to improve upon the way we played in Disney. We played well down there, but not well enough to stand still and hope to make it through our regular-season schedule. If anything, those games showed us the areas that we need to improve on, and we have done that in practice since we have been back. Now it is time to get on the court and show it."
The Lakers finished 1-1 during last year's GLIAC v. GLVC Challenge in Kenosha, Wis., beating Lewis 70-63 and losing to Wisconsin-Parkside 79-66. They were 0-2 in 2006-07 and 2-0 in 2005-06.
"These games are important for the simple fact that they are regional games," Pewinski said. "They wouldn't be any less important if they were in the middle of the season. Obviously we want to win, and it would give us some momentum as we head out on the road for the month of December. But as long as we show improvement and play together, the outcome will take care of itself."
Michigan Tech, which was ranked in the pre-season poll as the GLIAC's top women's team, lost a recent exhibition game to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 70-61. Lewis lost exhibition games to Bradley, 77-69, and Illinois-Chicago, 68-60, while Wisconsin-Parkside dropped decisions to Marquette, 67-46, and Northwestern, 74-34.