By Trent Zbichorski
The sound of the weights slamming together and hitting the ground echoes off the walls, and the stench of sweat permeates the air. It is that time of the year – the offseason.
The men’s basketball team is starting a long journey. The team is picking up where it left off and preparing for its toughest season under head coach Chad Walthall.
The start of the season includes many hours of travel around the country.
“We go to Missouri for two games, (and the) following week we go to Alaska,” said team captain Jordan Riewer.“We play five really good Division II teams, whereas in the past we played some Division III teams.”
Riewer redshirted his freshman year and experienced the run to the national tournament in the 2011-2012 season. Even though the game ended in a disappointing loss to the Colorado School of Mines, he is eager to return.
“Everyone’s expectations are high,” Riewer said. “All five years that I have been here, they have been nothing but high because coach Walthall wants the best for all of us.”
The difficult schedule has resulted in more intense workouts and weightlifting during the offseason. The players are pushing themselves more during training, hoping to improve from last season.
“This year has gone to a higher level as far as strength and conditioning goes,” Riewer said. “Conditioning has been harder, lifting has been harder, (and we’re) playing a little bit more.”
After they get done with an exhausting training session, the players treat themselves.
“Chocolate milk helps with the recovering process for our athletes after lifting and a hard day of training,” strength and conditioning coach Travis Anderson said. “It’s got some protein, carbohydrates, and some sugars to help replace some of the stuff they lost during training.”
Riewer is determined to get back to the national tournament this season. He wants the guys to experience what it feels like to play on the national stage.
“Everything becomes more fun in the national tournament,” Riewer said. “You get free flights, free stuff, and everything is paid for.”
In order to win the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament and have a shot at competing in the national tournament, the team knows where it needs to improve.
“The biggest focus this year is to improve our defense because we gave up way too many points last year that ended up costing a few games for us,” said teammate Aaron Lien.
However, the team is making sure not to get ahead of itself.
“Winning the conference tournament is our first goal, then take it one game at a time from there,” Lien said.
Fans also have a great impact on the team. The crowds that show up for game day fill the stadium with energy that players use to their advantage.
“Our fan base has grown so much in the past couple of years, and it’s been awesome to see that,” Lien said. “The game day atmosphere has been so much better and that really gets us excited to play.”
Lien believes the team has a “great chance to be playoff contenders.” He said they are able to compete with rival teams like Winona State, Mankato, and St. Cloud State.
Even though the first game of the season isn’t until Nov. 14 in Northwest Missouri, the team has a “good shot to win the conference championship and can get back to the national spotlight,” Lien said.