Posted February 10, 2016
An off-season for an athletic program can work wonders, and for the UW-River Falls women’s basketball team, it has brought the Falcons from seventh in the WIAC last year to first in 2016.
The Falcons just wrapped up an upset victory over UW-Stevens Point, and with a loss by UW-Oshkosh, the Falcons are now in first place and control their own destiny with four games remaining in the regular season. If UWRF wins the remaining games, it will win its first regular season conference championship since 1988, according to uwrfsports.com.
Head Coach Cindy Holbrook, who is in her 16th season as the Falcons coach, said last year’s team was young and inexperienced, but this past off-season, the team grew in more ways than one.
“There is a huge difference between sophomores and juniors. Just the intelligence for the game, and the ability to respond to the game and the physical strength,” Holbrook said. “There is a night-and-day difference in strength from sophomores to juniors. Plus, you got to figure, last year we lost games not by a lot. So we thought we were going to be good this year.”
Along with working hard in the offseason and returning four starters from a year ago, the Falcons added junior guard Brynn Liljander, a transfer from UW-Superior. Liljander is second on the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game. She also leads the team in three pointers with 35 this season, and is No. 1 on the team in free throw percentage with 81.3 percent.
Holbrook said she knew that Liljander was going to be special when the program brought her in this season.
“You add Brynn to the mix, a kid that can score, a kid that keeps the tempo up. So you add that one piece, everyone else gets better,” she said.
Richell Mehus, the only senior on the team this year, has been around during the bad years and is enjoying success this season, Mehus credits Liljander’s aggressiveness in her first season here.
“She’s a dream come true! She’s a threat to score continuously throughout the game,” Mehus said. “She is willing to attack open gaps to score or kick it out and/or dish it to the post so someone else can get a shot. She’s not afraid to pop it in someone’s face or behind a screen, so defenders have to be ready all the time.”
The Falcons control their own destiny in their final four remaining games, and Mehus said there is still a lot the team can improve on in order to get the first regular season conference championship in 28 years.
“We need to continue to do what we do well but out-rebounding our opponents will be the biggest deciding factor on how the last four regular season games end up,” Mehus said.
According to d3hoops.com, UW-River Falls is currently ranked No. 15 in the nation, and is tied with UW-Oshkosh at the top of the WIAC but owns the tiebreaker. The Falcons play UW-Stout, UW-Platteville and UW-La Crosse in their next three games, and in their final game, UW-Oshkosh will come to River Falls. With both teams tied at the top of the WIAC, the game very well could decide the regular season champion and is sure to be a thrilling finale for the Falcons.