The Maple Leaf Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams both tipped off their 2021-2022 season against Andrews University this week.The men’s team has added three freshmen and three transfers to their roster after finishing 3-24 a season ago. Despite the young group, Head Coach Jon Tropf feels that his team is prepared for what’s to come.
“We have given these guys a lot and have been very demanding but we have grown a lot over the preseason, and I expect to continue to see improvement every day,” Tropf said. “We will play better basketball as the year goes on.”
Their emphasis this year is on chopping wood, carrying water, and building the house brick by brick, meaning focusing on the little things in order to be successful.
“I think there is general excitement going into the season,” Tropf said. “We’re ready to finally be able to go against real opponents.”
The Maple Leafs are excited to welcome senior Austin Branagan back to the floor after he suffered a major injury less than a year ago. Branagan was named Crossroads League Honorable Mention last season as the ninth highest scorer in the league.
The men will face Aquinas College on Friday and Graceland on Saturday this week as part of the Comfort Inn Halloween Classic in Goshen. Coming up, the team will also travel to play an exhibition match against NCAA Division I Eastern Michigan.
The women’s team, which made a playoff appearance last season, is looking forward to building on that experience. Although the team only won 7 games last year, the Maple Leafs were selected to finish 7th overall in the Crossroads League Preseason Poll and Head Coach Stephanie Miller is optimistic for the future.
“We have had a better offseason than we have had in a long time in terms of the commitment by the girls,” Miller said. “We were happy to make the tournament, but we actually felt we were a 5th or a 6th-place team, and that helped motivate the kids.”
The women also have a young group after welcoming seven freshmen this season. Miller is hopeful that the new players’ versatility and dedication will serve the team well.
“The work ethic is very high in this freshman class,” Miller said. “There is a combination of talent, height, strength and skill.”
When combined with an experienced senior class, Miller believes the young team has a lot of potential. Her biggest weapons lie in taNiece Chapman and Graysen Cockerham, who were both selected for the Preseason All League Second Team.
“Graysen and TaNiece can’t hide anymore,” Miller said. “They’re the first two kids that I have had join the thousand point club in their junior year.”
“We look to them a lot for on-court leadership,” Miller added. “They’re just kids who want the ball in their hands. They feel confident and comfortable in all situations and that’s what we need from them.”
The women are scheduled to play an array of non-conference games, including an exhibition with NCAA Division I Western Michigan on Halloween. Crossroads League play will start on Nov. 20th as they host the University of Saint Francis.
Miller said, “This group is chomping at the bit, their enthusiasm to get out there is high, their connection to each other is strong, and the culture that we have in this group makes me extra excited to let them run out there and see what we are really made of.”