The Tabor College basketball teams slipped slightly in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference?s preseason polls conducted Oct. 14 in Wichita.
Sterling and Southwestern topped the women?s polls, but coaches and media differed widely in their assessments of the top men?s teams. The coaches picked the University of Saint Mary men one point ahead of Friends, while the media opined that Southwestern and Sterling will top the conference.
?I think it looks like another extremely competitive year,? Tabor men?s coach Micah Ratzlaff said. ?Friends and St. Mary's have the big name transfers and Southwestern, Sterling, and Mac all have experience back.?
The Bluejays, picked third in the coaches poll last year, were picked ninth by the coaches this year. Tabor was picked sixth in the media poll last year and dropped to eighth this year.
Among others, Tabor graduated all-conference forward Zack Vanselow. Phil McClintock, Carvelle Taylor, Jonathan Woods?and many others?were among an outstanding group of graduates across the conference.
?I think the rankings went where the transfers and the experience are because of the large number of graduates last year,? he said.
But a wide distribution of first-place votes in both men?s polls may also indicate the lack of a clear-cut frontrunner. Where the top two teams received 99 and 87 points worth of coaches? votes last year, the top teams garnered 77 and 76 this year.
A total of 15 media ballots awarded first place votes to seven different men?s teams, including Tabor.
Senior guard Kyle Kroeker and junior forward Damon Dechant helped lead the Bluejays to 11 conference wins last year. But the unexpected departures of Orson Thomas and Kyle de Blonk will force the Bluejays to develop its younger players quickly.
?Whoever voted us first in the media must be a huge fan of our recruits or a huge fan of our all-conference players, Kyle Kroeker and Damon Dechant?not sure what else it could be,? he said. ?We are not trying to hide the fact that we have three seniors and three juniors. There is no doubt that some young players will have to step it up and play some big roles for our team throughout this season.?
Several MCAA alumni will don Tabor uniforms, including Hillsboro graduates David Loewen and Clay Shewey and Hesston graduates Rob Moore and Michael Janzen.
?After a week of practice, our team has come a long ways,? Ratzlaff said. ?This team is very thick skinned and if someone talks about them as not being good enough it just motivates them even more to keep working.?
On the women?s side, the Bluejays finished seventh in the regular season last year (7-11 KCAC, 10-20 overall) so coach Shawn Winter was not surprised by the voters? choices.
?Sterling and Southwestern have been at or toward the top of the conference for a number of years now so it's not surprising to see them picked at the top again,? he said. ?They are both well coached teams with a strong tradition and it will be tough to take them down this season.?
?After Sterling and Southwestern it looks like there is a significant amount of parity in the middle of the conference,? he said. ?I think it may take 13 wins again to earn that third place spot.?
Winter said, ?Being picked 7th doesn't affect my thinking about this year's team.?
Tabor?s returning seniors are perimeter players Stephanie Silvas and Andrea Robinson; they will be accompanied on the court by forward Gina Hullet.
Hullet, now a sophomore, was named to the conference?s all-freshman team. She averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds per game over the last 10 games of the 2008-09 season.
Winter said his team will be have a strong, balanced and aggressive approach to offense and defense, particularly in its half-court defense. He noted that leadership and mental toughness will likely be learned the hard way.
?A potential weakness could be a lack of leadership coming forward and a lack of mental toughness early,? he said. ?It will most likely take some heated battles or taking a couple on the chin in order to force our team to recognize the important of being mentally tough.?
He also expressed that the polls are rooted in last season?s outcomes?and eagerness to start with a fresh slate.
?Although it's fun to see where everyone gets picked, it's usually a lot more fun to see who finishes where,? he said.
KCAC Men?s Basketball
1. Saint Mary (1) 77
2. Friends (4) 76
3. Sterling (3) 73
4t. McPherson (2) 67
4t. Kansas Wesleyan 67
6. Southwestern 58
7. Bethany 42
8. Ottawa 41
9. Tabor 37
10. Bethel 12
1. Southwestern (4) 126
2. Sterling (1) 119
3. Saint Mary (2) 99
4. Friends (3) 95
5. McPherson (2) 93
6. Kansas Wesleyan (2) 90
7. Ottawa 63
8. Tabor (1) 62
9. Bethany 58
10. Bethel 20
KCAC Women?s Basketball
1t. Sterling (6) 92
1t. Southwestern (4) 92
3. Friends 75
4. Bethel 64
5. Kansas Wesleyan 62
6. Ottawa 53
7. Tabor 40
8. Bethany 33
9. Saint Mary 25
10. McPherson 14
1. Sterling (9) 136
2. Southwestern (4) 131
3. Kansas Wesleyan (1) 108
4. Ottawa (1) 87
5. Friends 85
6. Bethel 77
7. Tabor 67
8. Bethany 52
9. Saint Mary 51
10. McPherson 31