Despite a lack of experience, expectations are high for the Columbia College basketball program.
In preseason polls of league coaches, the men’s and women’s teams are selected as favorites to win American Midwest Conference titles.
A new outlook for the women's team
The women’s team, entering its third year, has four returning players and Tiffany Foote and Lisa Kowalewski had extensive playing time last year. Forwards Mindy Mitchem and Tilly Payne injured their knees, which sidelined them for much of last season.
“They’re already showing everyone that they’re back and they make a big difference on the court,” Kowalewski said.
With seven freshmen, the Cougars have added height. Ursulla Jose, a forward from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is 6 feet 3. Forward Rachel Davis is 6-1, and LeeAnn Fossum and Jenny Schreiman are 6-0.
“We’re going to look a bit different this year,” coach Mike Davis said. “We’re longer and we’re taller.”
The Cougars head into the season ranked 22nd in the NAIA. Last year, they went to the NAIA National Tournament but lost to Central State (Ohio) in the first round and finished 25-9.
“We have two goals this year,” Davis said. “No. 1, we’d like to get (to the NAIA National Tournament), and No. 2, we’d like to stay there. We’d like to make our reservations for more than a couple of days.”
The men's team begins again
With five returning players for the men’s team, coach Bob Burchard is hesitant to announce comparable goals.
“It’s a major impact,” Burchard said. “Of those five, we only have two with real playing experience. I just think we’re a whole new basketball team.”
Burchard described watching his team in its first scrimmage, and then, while making notes for himself, wrote “Forget 26 practices and start over.”
“We’re all mixed up,” he said. “We’ve had to start at the beginning. We have no preconceived ideas of who should be doing what.”
Khamari Ballard, an All-American last year, and Andre Amos return. Amos, who had 154 rebounds and 85 steals last year, recently had the cast removed from his right wrist after undergoing surgery on a broken bone.
“That kind of took him out of the picture for a while,” Burchard said. “But in a positive sense, that made us work more with some of the other guys.”
Last year, the Cougars lost to Wayland Baptist University in the first round of the NAIA Tournament. They finished 25-9 and ranked 13th.
“The only way you can describe where we are is that we’re a work in progress,” Burchard said. “I think it’ll be that for a long time.”