The Pointers men’s basketball team had an incredible season last year but fell short of the national championship.
“Overall it was a special season,” said men’s basketball assistant coach Kent Dernbach. “Set winning percentage record, started with the most wins to begin a season with 20 and when you set records for a program with tradition and success it means you’re having a special year.”
Dernbach is in his fourth season at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point under head coach Bob Semling. Semling is in his tenth year at UWSP as the school leader in wins and the highest winning percentage among Division III coaches.
Despite having an incredible season that saw UWSP ranked number one for 10 straight weeks with a 28-2 record, a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship, the team fell at home to Emory in overtime in the sectional round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted,” Dernbach said. “ We had a good team that was built to win a national championship.”
This season UWSP will return six of their top nine guys from last season despite losing their top three scorers last season. Dernbach said these players will be the guys the team counts on to be leaders.
“Those six guys had a different role last year and will be called on to be more consistent and prominent players this year,” Dernbach said. “This is something they’ve proven in their careers before that they can do.”
The Pointers will count on are senior guards Joe Ritchay and Austin Ryf. In his sophomore season Ritchay was WIAC honorable mention, and last season he started all 30 games. He is fourth on the team in scoring. Last season, Ryf started all 30 games and was named to the All-WIAC defensive team. To go along with Ritchay and Ryf as seniors are forwards Jordan Lutz and Alex Richard.
“It’s their time,” Dernbach said. “It’s time for all four seniors to make their mark. They’ve already been a part of a lot of victories with two conference championships, but now it’s time as seniors to lead us back into a title hunt in another NCAA postseason run.”
Junior guards Sean McGann, who played in 28 games, and Stephen Pelkofer, who played in all 30, are the players who round out the returning six this season. Dernbach stated the team will be searching for the next players to step up.
“We have the six of nine players returning from last season, but we need to find who that seventh, eighth, ninth player is,” Dernbach said. “Just as important is who can be the tenth or eleventh guy when there are injuries. That’s the key to winning a conference championship is who has he depth to withstand those injuries.”
Dernbach noted a hardworking sophomore class and incoming freshman who will push each other to compete for those spots on the court. The depth of the roster makes practice a tough competition.
“Our goal is our toughest game we play occurs the night before,” Dernbach said. “If we can have some fierce battles in practice we know we will prepared for the opponents on our schedule.”
The Pointers have one of the toughest schedules in the nation. With a non-conference schedule featuring many preseason top 25 teams UWSP can be put in a good spot for seeding in the NCAA tournament if they win.
“Once the non-conference schedule is done we want to be in a position of regionally ranked teams based on our quality of wins that we had prior to conference,” Dernbach said. “ We know the respect our league gets and how tough it is win at home and on the road in the league.”
In the WIAC, their main rival is UW-Whitewater, the national champions last season. In three meetings last year the Pointers won both home games including the WIAC championship, but lost in overtime at Whitewater.
The goal every year for UWSP is to compete for a conference championship, which it has won the past two years, and to be in the title chase late in the season.
“We want to be playing our best basketball in mid-February into March. That’s what we build for,” Dernbach said. “Our goal is take steps everyday, and we should be in a position for a conference championship.”
One thing Dernbach stressed is importance of the homecourt advantage. The crowd support and attendance in the Quandt Fieldhouse last season outdrew 118 Division I programs and 98 percent of Division II programs according to Dernabch who wants that trend to continue.
The Pointers come into the season ranked number seven according to D3Hoops.com, and open the season at home against St. John’s Nov. 15.