Dordt College News

Defender hoopla

January 23, 2012

A hot start, team chemistry, and depth set the stage for a memorable season.

By early February, it almost didn’t matter where the 2011-2012 Dordt College men’s basketball team ended the season. They have given Dordt athletic fans some great excitement and entertainment throughout the winter.

The Defenders started the season with a Dordt-record 15-game winning streak and shot all the way to the No. 2 spot in the NAIA Division II basketball poll. 

The rise of this team through the GPAC ranks may have come as a surprise to some, but they gave an inkling of what was to come late in the 2010-2011 season, when a youthful band of players won three games in the conference post-season tournament before having their season end with a loss in the conference title game.

But rather than rest on the accomplishments of the 2010-2011 season, the returning players set out to build on what was started. Their work was rewarded with an early winning streak this season.

“Having success second semester last year and moving through the GPAC tournament gave our players a sense of confidence,” said Coach Ross Douma. “When the season was over and we fell short of the national tournament, our guys committed to improving both individually and as a team. More than anything, the second semester run and the conference tournament gave us a sense that we were doing things in the right manner, and it drove home the notion that we could set high standards for ourselves going forward.”

This year’s team has just one senior, TJ Malone. The rest of the players are primarily juniors and sophomores. The juniors were the first players Douma recruited as head coach of the team in February 2009.

“We were fortunate, in putting this team together, that there were a number of excellent players who had ties to Dordt College,” said Douma. It was not a given they would choose Dordt, however. Former coach Rick Vander Berg worked hard at recruiting players during the transition from Coach Greg Van Soelen to Douma.

“Thanks to Coach Vander Berg’s efforts, we were able to move forward immediately with Trevor Wolterstorff, Chris Sievers, Jordan Vogel, and Shawn Keizer,” said Douma. The four played as freshmen and have continued to improve each year.

“They injected depth and talent into our program,” said Douma. “Although using four freshmen is not a recipe for success, we needed to put them on the floor at that time.”

Wolterstorff established himself as the offensive leader almost from the start and earlier this season reached 1,000 career points, moving into the top-10 all time in scoring at Dordt College with more than a season remaining in his career.  He also earned NAIA Third-Team All-American Honors in 2010-2011. 

“In order to be a top-level team you need to have a player that is a cut above in ability and work ethic and has a competitive demeanor. We have been able to build around Trevor, who possesses those attributes,” said Douma. “When he decided to commit to Dordt, a critical piece to long-term building was in place.” As the team has improved over the past year, Douma asked Woltersdorff to focus on leadership and practice habits versus simply scoring. As a result, the team has a more balanced attack offensively, is tougher defensively, and shows more grit and mental toughness.

The 2010 recruiting class added even more depth.

“We landed two early commitments in the fall of ‘10 from Austin Katje and Kyle Lindbergh,” said Douma. Like the group before them, Austin and Kyle played as freshmen and contributed immediately. TJ Malone was brought in as point guard, helping offset the loss of seniors Logan Kingma and Michael Eekhoff.  Having Cliff Warner transfer in second semester last season further rounded out a strong team.

“Cliff has the uncanny ability to see the game slowly unfold in front of him and bring it together for his teammates. It is not a coincidence that we came together and began to build momentum when he arrived,” said Douma.

But it took still more to make the team better.

“Chemistry is a vital variable in college because teams spend so much time together,” said Douma. “Recruiting players who are selfless and hard-working is a must.” Matt Vande Kamp, Nick Wilson, Ben Sytsma, and James Rylaarsdam have been outstanding in this capacity. “Having players like them, who treat practices on Monday and Thursday like game-day, is imperative to a team’s development throughout the season. These four sophomores, along with Nana Yaw Sapon-Amoah, who transferred in this past fall, have been outstanding for us in this regard.”

Douma’s third recruiting class has added more pieces to the shifting puzzle.

“Tyler Wolterstorff is the only freshman playing in the rotation at this point, with the other freshmen making up a very strong junior varsity team,” said Douma. “Tyler had an outstanding high school career and has benefitted from having some returning players assume greater responsibilities.” Douma believes there are other potential varsity players in the freshmen class who will help the team in the years ahead.

That’s the team.

Douma is upfront about what he looks for in a recruit.

“When we recruit players, we look for kids who really enjoy playing and competing,” said Douma  “It sounds simple, but the fact of the matter is there are long hours in the gym and long road trips to be traveled and players need to love the game of basketball. The leap from high school to college is much more difficult than people realize, and having players come from programs that practice hard and have high expectations is very helpful.”

Although the final chapter of this season’s story still needed to be written as we went to press, the Defenders clinched their first-ever Great Plains Athletic Conference regular season men’s basketball championship on February 11. The win, fittingly, came in front of a packed house at the De Witt Gym and capped a week where the Defenders won three straight games—two of them on the road.

“It was really nice to get this GPAC conference title at home in front of our enthusiastic fans who have been amazing in supporting us all year,” said Douma. “It was a great week for Dordt College basketball.”


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