The 2018-2019 season was not a kind one to Carleton Basketball. Both Men’s and Women’s Basketball were put through trials and tribulations perhaps unprecedented in both programs’ respective histories. After winning three of their first four, Carleton Women’s Basketball dropped a whopping 21 straight contests, finishing with no wins and 18 losses in conference play, including a 62 point blowout to St. Thomas. At the season’s conclusion, Head Coach Cassie Kosiba resigned.
Men’s Basketball had its own share of institutional issues. Following a disappointing 7-18 season (5-15 in MIAC play), eight of the returning 10 players had decided to step away from the program, seven of whom followed through. Six former Knights actually left Carleton, leaving Men’s Basketball with Seniors Kent Hanson and Henry Bensen, sophomore Alex Battist, and a lot of question marks.
Though each squad has a season’s worth of basketball left to play, this week’s victories seemed to be an indicator that things are moving in a positive direction for both programs. The victories themselves are not necessarily suggestive of a systematic turnaround, but the manner with which both teams competed could be. This past Friday, the Carleton Women defeated visiting Martin Luther by a score of 69 to 46, recording 22 steals, third most by the Knights in a single game in program history. The following Tuesday, the men dropped 82 points on North Central, three points more than their highest single game offensive output of the 2018-2019 season, en route to an 82 to 67 win.
In just one game, both groups of Knights appear to have significantly improved the weaknesses that plagued the previous year’s squads. Last season’s men’s team, as with nearly all of defensive wizard, and Head Coach, Guy Kalland’s teams, played excellent defense, holding opponents to 68.6 points per game, good for second amongst MIAC schools. Offensively, however, they ranked dead last, scoring three points per game less than the closest competitor. The women fared even worse, ranking last in both points per game scored and points per game allowed, plagued by turning the ball over 20 times per game, and only forcing 13 turnovers on defense.
Though Martin Luther is not a particularly strong basketball program, Friday’s result, along with statements from point guard Jill Yanai ’22, shows that defensive mindset for the women’s has changed. Yanai referenced systematic changes to the Knights approach to defense. When asked about their defensive philosophy after the victory, “Coach is always talking to us about using high hands, to make them throw high passes that we can intercept,” said Yanai. “We kind of use this cat and mouse type of thing with the high post, which allows us to be in control on defense. Our philosophy is really just systematically thinking a step ahead for the next pass, and I feel like it’s been working.”
The coach Yanai is referring to is Tammy Metcalf-Filzen, who returned to the Bench for the Knights in place of Kosiba. Perhaps none are more qualified to coach the Knights than Metcalf-Filzen. A Carleton ‘C’ Club Hall of Famer, Metcalf-Filzen coached Women’s Basketball at Carleton for thirteen years before retiring in 2010, winning three MIAC championships along the way, and finishing with the best winning percentage for a coach in program history. Interestingly, Metcalf-Filzen actually coached Kosiba during her playing days as a Knight.
Metcalf-Filzen is renowned among coaching circles as imposing a disciplined style of play on her teams, one that has obviously led to success. She institutes a systematic approach on both ends of the floor, preaching to the Knights the importance of patient, intelligent team basketball. Between the 22 steals and skyhigh 45 percent shooting percentage, Metcalf-Filzen already has the Knights playing more efficiently than last season. Though MIAC championship contention is not imminent, there is no doubt that Metcalf-Filzen has Carleton Women’s Basketball moving in a positive direction.
Unlike the Women’s program, Men’s Basketball hasn’t had a coaching change for three and a half decades. Kalland is in his thirty-fifth season at the helm for Carleton, but perhaps has never had to face such a roster transformation as he did this past offseason. In addition to having to completely fill out his roster with first-years, Kalland had to deal with the departure of his second leading scorer, and the only other Knight to average at least double figures besides Hanson, Matthew Stritzel ’21. Considering the Knights appalling lack of offense in 2018-2019, losing a scorer like Stritzel very easily could spell doom for the 2019-2020 Knights.
Though one game can never be a completely accurate barometer of a team’s future success, the Knights’ offensive performance against North Central gives reason for optimism. First years Ike Tessier and Jeremy Beckler lit up the scoreboard, combining for 50 of Carleton’s 82 points in their debuts. Tessier finished with 27, scoring the majority of his points on acrobatic finishes over multiple defenders. Beckler added 10 rebounds in addition to 23 points of his own, shooting 63 percent from the field, while knocking down three of six from beyond the three point stripe.
Neither team captain Henry Bensen nor Kalland were surprised by the outpouring of offense from their first years, however. “They’ve been doing it all camp,” Bensen remarked. “Those guys play hard, they get after it. It’s really a testament to the work they’ve put in this preseason, getting ready for this first game. They haven’t seen any college action and picked right up from where they were in high school.” “I’m not stunned…maybe only forty-eight,” joked Coach Kalland when asked if he expected fifty from Beckler and Tessier.
The MIAC is chock full of very strong programs. The Knights young squad will have to face the gauntlet early, as later this month they’ll travel to play St. John’s and St. Thomas, ranked 12th and 15th nationally, respectively. Like the women, Men’s Basketball might not be ready to compete for a championship quite yet, but they too are trending upwards. With a talented young core of Tessier, Beckler and Battist, the future is bright.