NewsCougars Look to Continue Winning Hoops Tradition
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Coming off a 27-9 season that culminated with an American Mideast Conference Tournament title and an Elite Eight finish at the NAIA Division II National Tournament, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University men’s basketball team is set to take the court for the 2006-2007 season with a talented roster that looks to continue the program’s successful winning tradition that includes nine 20-win seasons in the past 10 years.
"We had a great season last year in which our seniors (Alan Bock, Andrew Thompson, Nick Zarley, Bryan Wyant, and Josh Haumschild) provided great leadership,” said MVNU head coach Scott Flemming, who enters his seventeenth season leading the Cougars with a 326-202 career mark (.617 winning percentage) at his alma mater. "Although we will miss those guys and especially our two starting guards (Bock and Thompson), I think as the season progresses we can be a very solid team. The talent is here - we just have to build chemistry.”
Leading the way for MVNU will be a trio of seniors who will look to close out their careers in fine fashion. Mark Hess, a 6-foot-6 post, has amassed 1,515 career points and 802 career rebounds and has a shot at becoming the first player in school history to top 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Among his many honors, Hess is a two-time NAIA Division II Honorable Mention All-American and a three-year captain.
"Mark has been a model of consistency,” said Flemming. "You can count on his point production and rebounding night in and night out. He is very tough to stop in the low post and he has some range on his jump shot. He will be a strong leader on this team as well.”
Ryan Seesholtz, a 6-foot-4 senior wing, returns after averaging 11.8 points and 7.3 rebounds last year. The two-time American Mideast Conference South Division Honorable Mention selection enters the season ranked eleventh in school history in career rebounds (589) and needing just 66 points to reach the 1,000-point mark in career scoring.
"Ryan is our most versatile player,” said Flemming. "He does everything well. He is one of our best defenders and rebounders. He can score inside and outside, and he plays extremely hard.”
Steve Mayes, a 7-foot center, rounds out the trio of seniors. Mayes led all NAIA Division II players with a school-record 132 blocked shots last season, and he also averaged 8.2 points and 6.1 rebounds. He is already the Cougars’ career leader in blocked shots with 226 and counting.
"Steve has really developed over the past three years,” said Flemming. "He is a defensive presence in the middle who can be dominant at times. He is the best shot blocker we have ever had in our program. He also has a very good shooting touch for a big man, especially from 15 feet and in.”
Sophomore guard Ben Falkenberg (5-foot-10) returns after earning AMC South Division Newcomer of the Year and AMC South Division Third Team honors as a freshman. Falkenberg averaged a team-high 16.4 points off the bench for MVNU last season, nailed a team-best 108 three-pointers, and ranked ninth in NAIA Division II by shooting 86.5 percent at the free throw line.
"Ben had a great freshman year,” said Flemming. "He can create his own shot either taking it to the basket or shooting the three-point shot. He is one of the best guards in the conference and should have another big year for us.”
Dustin Ultican, a 5-foot-11 junior point guard, and Dan Borcherdt, a 6-foot sophomore guard, have both joined the Cougars this year after transferring from the University of Charleston (W.V.) and Army respectively. Ultican, who was a two-time All-Conference player at Pickerington High School, played two seasons at Charleston, while Borcherdt averaged 4.1 points in 23 games at Army after being an All-Ohio First Team pick and scoring a school-record 1,422 points at Archbold High School.
"Dustin will look to get the ball to others, but he is capable of scoring as well,” said Flemming. "He is one of our best defensive players. Dan has the potential to be one of the best shooters we have ever had. He is capable of having some big scoring nights. He keeps working hard to continue his progress as a college player. Dustin and Dan should make an immediate impact, but it will take some time for them to feel comfortable in our system of play.”
Juniors Connor Gregg (6-foot-7) and Evan Yates (6-foot-5) along with sophomore Matt McKinley (6-foot-3) and freshmen Joe Kalb (6-foot-6) and Bryce Sanborn (6-foot-8) will give the Cougars plenty of depth inside. Gregg averaged 7.3 points and 4.9 rebounds as he played in all 36 games last year with eight starts, while Yates saw action in 25 games. McKinley averaged 13.7 points as a member of the MVNU junior varsity team, and Kalb scored 1,235 career points at Wynford High School as a two-time All-Ohio Second Team pick. Sanborn also averaged 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds as an All-Ohio Honorable Mention selection at Dover High School.
Junior guard Josh Smith (6-foot) will add depth for the Cougars at the shooting guard spot after going 10-for-19 from three point range last season (52.6 percent). Sophomore wing Andy Francis (6-foot-1) also played in 15 games last year and is one of the team’s defensive stoppers and sparkplugs off the bench.
"This team will have a lot of depth,” said Flemming. "As the season progresses, we should be able to bring players in without dropping off too much in our production. We will need to continue to improve on defense to get to the level we played at last year. This should be a very good perimeter shooting team, and it will be hard for teams to focus on one or two players with the line-ups we will be able to put on the floor.”
The Cougars will open up the regular season with a non-conference game at Ohio State University-Marion on November 7. Other non-conference games will include Grace (Ind.) College, Notre Dame College, Cincinnati Christian University, Ashland University, and Spalding (Ky.) University. MVNU will face Myers University and LaRoche (Pa.) College in the annual Food for the Hungry Holiday Invitational hosted this year by the Cougars on November 17 and by Kenyon College on November 18. The team will also take part in the Grand Canyon Shootout in Phoenix, Arizona, on December 28 and 29 with games against Biola (Calif.) University and Hanover (Ind.) College.
MVNU, which is ranked 14th in the NAIA Division II preseason poll, will look to contend for the AMC South Division title after finishing second last year and winning the AMC Tournament. The Cougars will play home and away games against seventh-ranked Walsh University, Cedarville University (others receiving votes), Malone College (others receiving votes), Ohio Dominican University, Tiffin University, Urbana University, Shawnee State University, the University of Rio Grande, and Wilberforce University.
"The conference will be even stronger this year from top to bottom,” said Flemming. "With everyone back from last year’s team, Walsh should be the team to beat in the conference. I think we will be a contender along with Cedarville, Malone, Tiffin, and maybe some others who could sneak in there because of some new players.”
"I think we have the potential to get back to postseason play including possibly the national tournament,” said Flemming. "With several new players at key positions, it may take us some time to reach our highest level of play. To make it to Branson, you not only have to be a very strong team - you have to find ways to win close games and you need a few breaks along the way.”