Lofty goals in place for UW-La Crosse men, women’s basketball in 2021

This week is momentous for UW-La Crosse sports. After winter teams returned to campus a week ago and used that time to go full-on conditioning, this week marks the true sign that practices are getting Eagles ready to be playing games next month.

Feb. 4 remains that first day of competition though we are still awaiting official conference schedules. Both teams have lofty goals for the season ahead. On the women’s side, they’re coming off a season in which they led the WIAC in scoring offense, field goal shooting, and the second-best scoring defense at 58 points allowed per game. Those numbers helped them reach the NCAA tournament, and while that was a one-and-done experience for the Eagles, they believe they have what it takes to make it back.

“We had that crazy experience last year where we made it to the tournament,” junior Kyah Steiner said. “Now that we’re all back here, we just really want to do that again.”

Head coach Karen Middleton said her team has approached an offseason of doubt with open minds, and they’re set to make the most out of an upcoming slate of games.

“We’re doing a really great job of keeping things in perspective, and with that, bringing tons of energy,” she said. “These [masks] are not easy, but it’s also very necessary, and we know that.”

The women’s team loses the best three-point shooter in program history and last season’s top scorer Dani Craig to graduation, as well as second-leading scorer from a season ago Delaney Schoenenberger.

The men’s team, meanwhile, went 21-6 and missed the national tournament but was top three in the WIAC in scoring offense and defense. Head coach Kent Dernbach says defense is where they’ll hang their hat again after leading the conference in steals (102 of them for around seven per game) and holding teams to 31 percent shooting from the perimeter.

Three seniors are gone but their top two scorers Ethan Anderson and Wyatt Cook return, and make no mistake: Dernbach and this squad have every intention of making program history this season.

“Begin with the end in mind,” Dernbach said. “We certainly aren’t afraid to say we’re going after a WIAC championship and NCAA tournament berth and trying tog et this program the first win in the history of UWL men’s basketball in the national tournament. We haven’t had that yet. 7 schools in our league have won a game in the tournament. We’re the last one. And our guys are on a mission to do that. So that’s the goal at the end. Right now we just have to work on stacking good practices on top of each other.”