Sam Ekstrom-Staff Writer
After two consecutive appearances in the national quarterfinals, Dordt’s men’s basketball team returns this fall with a multitude of new faces.
Twenty-one freshmen join eight returning players this preseason as the Defenders look to build a 15-man roster that can keep Dordt’s place at the top of the Greater Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC).
Last season’s record-breaking class of seniors – Trevor Wolterstorff, Cliff Warner, Jordan Vogel, Shawn Keizer and Chris Sievers – set the bar extremely high as they helped the squad complete an undefeated home season that culminated in a GPAC Postseason Championship.
Despite their departure, however, head coach Ross Douma isn’t lowering expectations.
“We believe we have players returning who have a firm understanding of what it takes to get to where we want to be. That’s at the elite national level, and those kids don’t want to back down from that,” Douma said.
Two of the returning players he refers to are seniors Kyle Lindbergh and Austin Katje. Both have played at the varsity level since their freshman year, and both are closing in on 1,000 career points. Their play – and their leadership – will play a pivotal role in the Defenders’ success.
“I’ve been looking forward to stepping into a larger leadership role and being more of a vocal presence on this year’s team,” said Katje, a shooting guard. “Kyle and I have been looking forward to being seniors all summer and are both excited to take more ownership of the team.”
Lindbergh, a forward, feels the same way about stepping up to fill the void left by last year’s graduates.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to take the leadership role and help a lot of young freshmen figure some things out, just like Chris Van Roekel did to me when I was a freshman,” Lindbergh said.
Katje and Lindbergh will be joined by sophomore Nathan Rindels and juniors Tyler Wolterstorff and David Den Herder, all of whom logged varsity minutes last season.
Rindels will aim to replace graduated point guard Cliff Warner, while Den Herder seeks to man the same post position that Chris Sievers and Jordan Vogel dominated for several years.
“This offseason has been the most important one in my basketball career,” said Den Herder. “I had to really focus on getting stronger and being in good shape coming into the school year.”
The Defenders lost more than 6,000 career points in last year’s graduating class. Naturally, the team will now put a heavy emphasis on defense. Coach Douma put his players on a 17-week offseason training program to prepare them for the hard work ahead.
“This group is in as good condition as we’ve had,” said Douma. “They’ve really done what we’ve asked them to do.”
The Defenders began practicing Sept. 25 in preparation for their Nov. 1 opener at Valley City State (N.D.), the first of seven road games to begin the season.
While some are skeptical about Dordt’s chances of duplicating their 28-win season, the returning players are excited to prove the doubters wrong.
“I’m really expecting big things from this team even though a lot of people are thinking we are down or thinking we won’t be as good as the past two years,” said Lindbergh. “I see a fire in the guys this year that will get us to where we want to be.”
Hopefully, that means a third straight trip to the national tournament.
“I’m really excited to see what this group can do,” said Katje. “We have a lot of younger – and older – guys who are really bought in and willing to do whatever it takes to win.”