By Henry Powers, GUEST WRITER
After opening the season 5-1, the Wartburg men’s basketball is looking to finish over .500 for the first time since the 2018-19 season, following a COVID-ridden year.
Head coach Dick Peth is entering his 25th year at the helm. He is a former basketball player at the University of Iowa under legendary Lute Olson and former coach himself at the University of Denver.
In the 2018-19 season, the Knights finished with a 17-9 record and 11-5 conference record, which was good for third place. They fell to the Dubuque Spartans in the first round of the American Rivers Conference tournament.
Flashing back to last season, things looked a little different. Games started Jan. 3, 2021, due to COVID, and the Knights were able to play 11 games total with two other games cancelled. They lost in the first round of the A-R-C tournament that year. The Knights finished the shortened season with a record of 4-7 overall and 2-4 in A-R-C play.
The 2021-22 team is very motivated this year coming off the COVID season, Peth said, and he likes the chemistry that this team brings.
The Knights brought in a third-year transfer, Codey Hicks from Briar Cliff University. He has started all six games this year for the Knights. Despite the move and chemistry, the Knights were overlooked much to the offense of senior guard Drew Olson.
“Definitely got underdogged the whole offseason,” he said. “When we had our first open gym, we kind of all looked around and said that was probably the best basketball we’ve played, and we got picked seventh in the conference.”
The coaches’ preseason poll did rank the Knights at seventh.
Olson, who’s one of three captains and also a golf team member, said he hopes they can keep proving people wrong.
Junior guard Jack Molstead, senior guard Keagan John, senior forward Davis Roquet, Hicks, and Olson, have started every game this season for the orange and black.
The Knights will travel to Cedar Falls in late December to play the Division-I Northern Iowa Panthers in an exhibition game, something they haven’t done since the 2018-19 season.
Scheduling an exhibition like this has many benefits for the players, Peth said.
“Our guys love the opportunity to play on a big stage against many of the players they competed against in both high school and on the AAU circuit,” he said. “It’s nice to have another game coming off Christmas break before we start up American Rivers Conference play.”
Peth said the program expects to compete for a championship every year and purposely structures a difficult non-conference schedule, so it prepares the team for a conference championship run.
Olson, who leads the team with 15.8 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game, said he has total belief in his team to get it done.
“Definitely think we can compete with everyone on our schedule,” he said. “We want to play the best basketball we can, definitely just trying to go 1-0, making sure everyone stays on point with that goal every year.”
The confidence from Olson bleeds into the rest of the team, including freshman guard Richie Rosenblum. He said, much like Olson, that the team was prepared from the start.
“I thought we had a really good offseason going in. We had probably five weeks of practice before the first game and we looked good.”
Rosenblum also said this team does a good job of playing together and have stuck to the fundamentals, something Peth relies on for team success.
“He likes to say, be detail-oriented… all the little things are what he really wants us to focus on,” he said. “It sounds like basic things, but it’s stuff that you have to execute every game if you do want to succeed, so that’s definitely probably his biggest thing.”
Olson echoed that sentiment about Peth.
“He preaches defense. You probably aren’t going to play for him a lot unless you’re dedicated to that side of the floor,” he said. “Basketball in today’s world where NBA teams are just running trying to score 120 points or whatever their goal is, that’s not how we do things.”
The Knights, coming off a home loss Friday against No.. 15 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, will look to build on their 5-1 record Wednesday against the Norse of Luther College.