Mike Barrett, LSSULakers.com
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — Preparing for the tip off of the 2018-19 season, the Lake Superior State men's basketball team will look to reload following a trip to the NCAA Tournament and the departure of three starters.
The 2017-18 Lakers finished 25-8 overall and went 16-4 in conference play. This included a perfect 12-0 mark on their home court inside the Bud Cooper Gymnasium. Among those wins were a 79-74 win over Ferris State — the only loss the Bulldogs took all season en route to the DII national championship.
Finishing as the second seed in the GLIAC tournament, Lake Superior defeated Grand Valley and Michigan Tech before falling to Ferris State in the championship. Advancing to the NCAA tourney, the Lakers downed Hillsdale before their season was ended at the hands of the Bulldogs.
"We'll try to build on it by doing the things we've done well," said Lakers head coach Steve Hettinga. "Our work ethic is something we've been trying to build off of. Even though we lost four very good players, we still have seven guys return with a lot of experience."
Gone are Akaemji Williams, Mike Nicholson, Josh Goldschmidt and Lance Monroe. The four saw two NCAA appearances and a GLIAC regular season title. Williams and Nicholson were four year starters, while Goldschmidt started in three seasons.
"They were one special class," remarked Hettinga on his recently departed seniors. "I may miss them more off the floor than on…they were all great people. They did a ton for our community and they were leaders in the locker room. They were stalwarts for our program and really set the bar high."
Six freshmen will suit up for coach Hettinga, who is now in his 12th season behind the Laker bench. C.J. Robinson (Clarkston, Mich.), Jayden Perry (Manton, Mich.), Bradley Spindler (Gladstone, Mich.), Justin Fischer (Sterling Heights, Mich.), Ashton Sherrell (Detroit) and Tristen Mysen (Metamora, Mich.) will look to make their mark.
"We've been seeing those guys tired a lot…but they're really starting to pick it up these past couple of weeks," said Hettinga, remarking how the transition to College can be eye-opening for freshmen. "Ashton Sherrell, C.J. Robinson and Justin Fischer have really stood out to us so far and we've been very pleased."
Of the 2018-19 senior class, three of them have started games in their time with the Lakers, with forward Blake Marquardt starting 32 games last season and Tim Cairnduff with 11 starts. Carson Manger has also started periodically throughout his Laker career.
"We certainly hope our three seniors can be leaders. We have six newcomers, so the hope is that the seniors that have been here and gone through all of the tough conditioning and preseason. We'll need them to lead by example."
Manger, a native of New Bremen, Ohio, came off of the bench in 27 contests last season to post 5.9 points per game (PPG), as well as accumulate 84 rebounds and 11 blocks. He was a key component in coach Hettinga's deep bench last season.
Marquardt, after seeing a number of starts his sophomore season, became a regular starter last season. The forward from Oshkosh, Wisconsin averaged 8.7 PPG while putting up a 49.7 shooting percentage, both from inside and outside of the three point line. His free throw percentage of 86.7 was best among starters last season.
In addition to Manger and Marquardt, the Lakers return guard Malek Adams, who hails from Grand Ledge, Michigan, posted a 53.9 shooting percentage to go along with his 9.2 PPG — the highest among returning players. On the other side of the ball, Adams racked up 14 blocks and 24 steals.
"I think we have many good shooters…I think that will be one of our strengths this season," said Hettinga. "I really felt our defense is an area was not a strength of ours last year. If we're going to compete, we need to be much better on defense and with defensive rebounding."
Lake Superior will play an exhibition match against Olivet College (Hettinga's alma mater) on October 27th at home before taking a trip to Anchorage, Alaska, where they will face Alaska and Alaska Anchorage, two formidable foes, in non-conference play.
"Every year, we try to test our guys early and this year will be no different," said Hettinga. "Our first couple of games, we'll fly to Alaska. We'll come back and head down to Indiana to play Indianapolis and Southern Indiana, two powerhouses in the GLVC (Great Lakes Valley Conference)."
The regular season home slate begins December 6th when Saginaw Valley comes to town.