“The KCAC is a unique conference,” Ottawa University men’s basketball coach Andy Carrier, who is a 1981 graduate of Bethany. “Our core values is what the KCAC institutions stand for. All the institutions made an impact on their students. It helps form their lives. It creates loyalty. When I was gone from the KCAC I missed it.”
Carrier said past coaches drew many of today’s coaches to the KCAC.
“Most of it is a coach,” Carrier said. “They had somebody who had a big impact on our lives. There are connections, continuity and commonality. It is a coaches league. All these guys know how to keep their teams in a ball game regardless of talent level. Eighteen conference game is a marathon. There is no quit in teams.”
Many of those coaches have a different passion because of their KCAC ties.
“This conference has tremendous coaches,” McPherson coach Tim Schwartzendruber, a 1981 Bethel grad, said.
Clair Oleen, who has been involved in the KCAC as a player and coach at Bethany for the past 34 years, has always touted the KCAC as top-notch on and off the court.
The other coaches who started as student-athletes in the KCAC include Sterling women’s coach Lonnie Kruse (Sterling), Ottawa women’s coach Bruce Tate (Ottawa), Saint Mary women’s coach Mike Basler (Ottawa), Tabor women’s coach Shawn Reed (Sterling), McPherson women’s coach Cy Rolfs (McPherson), Southwestern men’s coach Matt O’Brien (Friends), Saint Mary men’s coach Jon Bishop (Kansas Wesleyan) and Tabor men’s coach Micah Ratzlaff (Tabor).
The Ottawa men’s and women’s basketball teams expect to be in the thick of the KCAC races in the 2012-13 season.
The media and coaches feel the same way. The Braves were selected third by the media and coaches during Tuesday’s media day in Wichita. The Lady Braves were fourth in the media poll and picked fifth by the coaches.
Saint Mary was the favorite in the men’s side, while Southwestern topped the women’s polls.
“The league will be good again,” Carrier said. “Saint Mary is flat loaded ... experienced, deep, proven. Tabor has a great core back. McPherson lost those All-Americans but returns a solid group. History indicates when you keep groups together and have experience, those teams have done well. I hope that bodes true.
“We finally have got one of those groups again. We have the talent, depth, chemistry and character that is necessary to go through the marathon.
“Every journey is different. Those teams that have strong leadership and experience to get through those tough times are those that end up at the top of the league.”
Ottawa returns four starters and 11 lettermen from last year’s squad.
“We finally do have some experience,” Carrier said. “We are led by three seniors.”
The leaders are Corey Smith (15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds), Chase Dippel (15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds) and Stephen Feighny (9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds).
“I think we have a chance to make a dramatic improvement on the defensive end,” Carrier said. This group has been through some adversity.
"We are looking forward to the journey. The league will be great.”
The men’s teams expect to run more this season.
“The game has evolved,” Carrier said. “It is fun to watch, fun to play. It is the direction the game is going. Even if you play that fast the really key games come down to your ability to execute and get a really good shot in halfcourt or really play defense as a team.”
Tate expects the women’s game to also be more of an up-tempo game and could provide a lot of dramatic finishes.
“The conference will be more athletic,” he said. “It will come down to one or two possessions in every game. Last year there were some bottom teams beat some top teams.
“Come tournament time, there is going to be eight teams that can compete for the top spot.”
Ottawa returns two starters and four other key players from last year’s team.
“We are deep in our guard position,” Tate said. “It makes us fast. Our versatility is huge.
“I coach our group that way for us to play numerous positions.”
The returning starters are senior guard Kelsi Meier and junior forward Amber Ramsey, a preseason all-KCAC selection.
“[Amber] had a great summer,” Tate said. “She expanded her game. She is tough to guard ... a player that can use both hands. She will have to do a lot of things for us.”
Other key returners are junior guard Shauna McClure, senior forward April Dowell, junior guard Morgan Boore and senior sharpshooter Lauren Buckles.
Tate called McClure a “fearless scorer.”
“She will take on that scoring load from the outside,” Tate said. “April had some big games for us. She is very competitive.”
Ottawa expects to get a boost in second semester from transfer point guard Mikayla Skidmore.
“We can’t guard her in practice,” Tate said. “She does a lot of good things in our spread offense.
“Our chemistry is very strong.”
Greg Mast can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org