At a glance:
2012-13 Record: 6-22 overall, 2-18 GPAC (11th)
Head Coach: Ben Limback (1st year at Concordia, Neb.; 115-158 in 9 seasons at Concordia-Ann Arbor)
Returning Starters: Joel Haywood (Jr.), Adam Vogt (Sr.)
Other Key Returners: Max Wegener (So.), Robby Thomas (So.)
Total Letter Winners Returning/Lost: 4/7
Key Losses: Porter Birtell, Charles Dunbar, Brent Houchin, Beau Smith
2012-13 GPAC All-Conference: Porter Birtell (honorable mention), Beau Smith (honorable mention)
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
A massive facelift took place over the offseason as a new head coach and a recruiting class of 19 injected new life into Concordia men’s basketball. The abundance of brand new faces means there are very few still within the program that experienced the challenging 2012-13 season.
With Ben Limback, a 1999 Bulldog graduate and former nine-year head coach at Concordia-Ann Arbor, taking over, the Bulldogs insist they are focused solely on what lies ahead.
“We all have goals and we all have aspirations to have a much different season,” Limback said. “Our goal is not really to look back on last year but to focus on what this year can be based on the guys we have. We lost some seniors – we know that – but we need to move on. Our focus is on this year and what we need to do to compete in the GPAC.”
Concordia’s new leader was officially announced as the program’s head coach on March 12. Limback racked up 1,158 points and led the Bulldogs to three national tournament appearances during his collegiate career from 1996-99. The Cedar Falls, Iowa, native is glad to be back.
“There are a lot of memories coming back,” Limback said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for my family to come to this great town of Seward. We’ve been excited anticipating this season coming up. Just being back in Bulldog land has been great so far.”
Limback’s return to Seward promises an exciting brand of basketball that includes complex language for play sets, an emphasis on pushing the ball offensively and tough man-to-man defense. With more depth and plenty of youthful exuberance, the Bulldogs will be much more adept at playing an uptempo style.
“I think you’ll definitely see more guys flying around,” said the team’s lone senior, Adam Vogt of Syracuse, Neb. “The energy will be up higher. We won’t be as passive. I think this year we’ll be more aggressive. There’ll be more young guys out there so we’ll have our ups and downs.”
The youngsters will look to a backcourt that includes Vogt and fellow returning starter Joel Haywood, a 6-foot-3 junior from Lakewood, Colo., to provide leadership. Haywood, who averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 rebounds last season, has started each of the first 58 games of his career. Meanwhile, Vogt has more game experience than anyone on the roster with 76 career appearances.
With a combined varsity and junior varsity roster complete with 16 freshman and eight sophomores, Haywood and Vogt will be leaned upon to show the way.
“Any time you have upperclassmen who have competed at the varsity level in the GPAC, you have to rely on them,” Limback said. “They’re making great strides to become more vocal leaders and to share insights on what the team needs to do. I’m pleased with their progress as leaders. They know it’s an important thing for our success.”
The only remaining holdovers with varsity experience are sophomores Robby Thomas (6-foot-7) and Max Wegener (6-foot-9). The pair of long and lean forwards got their feet wet last season in supporting roles, combining for 53 games played and four starts. Now they will both be called upon for much larger contributions.
“I think Robby Thomas is really coming out more aggressive this year,” Vogt said. “I think he’s had more dunks in preseason than he had his whole season last year. And Max Wegener, he’s really great in the post with his touch around the basket and his Dirk Nowitzki-like moves that we always joke about. He’s doing great in the post.”
The lack of returners leaves the door wide open for several transfers and freshmen newcomers. Sophomore Deondre White, a 6-foot-2 guard who transferred from Wayne State College, has made waves over the offseason with his playmaking ability in the backcourt. With a void at point guard, White is likely to see plenty of minutes along with Haywood and Vogt in the backcourt.
White, who saw action in four games last season at Wayne State, has already caught the attention of Vogt.
“I think Deondre White’s definitely going to be able to take care of the ball for us,” Vogt said. “He’s big and he’s quick so he’s going to be able to handle the ball, get to the rim and make plays for us.”
There will be several other inexperienced guards vying for playing time. Assistant coach Marty Kohlwey’s son Micah, a 6-foot-3 gym rat who transferred in from Nebraska Wesleyan, will be eligible for the second semester, per league transfer rules. Then there are freshmen like Seth Curran (Omaha, Neb.), Aaron Walker (Lincoln, Neb.) and Eli Ziegler (Littleton, Colo.) who could also figure into the backcourt mix.
“There are a lot of guys,” Limback said, “a lot of guys who can be in the mix. There are more that could surface at some point, but those are the guys on the perimeter right now that I think could see some minutes early.”
In the frontcourt, Thomas and Wegener will be flanked by freshmen bigs such as 6-foot-10 Justin Damme (Cook, Neb.), 6-foot-8 Chandler Folkerts (Milford, Neb.) and 6-foot-5 Stephen Llewellyn (Oakley, Kan.). The presence of guys like Damme, who is great at stepping out and shooting from the perimeter, and Folkerts will allow Limback to tinker with lineups and at times go with a group of five including individuals all at least 6-foot-3 or taller.
Both Damme and Folkerts were recruited to provide immediate help in the paint.
“Chandler and Justin both are big bodies, but the best thing about those guys is every day they want to get better,” Limback said. “They don’t take plays off. They work hard. They listen. The sky’s the limit. They’re different in how they play so it’s nice to have different styles in those two bigs.”
Increased size and athleticism provides optimism that this year’s team will compete at a higher level as opposed to the frustrating 2012-13 season. But most of the team’s roster never went through it anyway.
“In all honesty, there are only four of us who remember that throughout the whole team,” Vogt said. “So it’s kind of been on the backburner. Us four are just trying to forget it and move on because we’re not trying to dwell on that.”
With many questions left to be answered, Limback’s life has been made easier by the willingness of his players to work together. The chemistry the Bulldogs have built throughout the offense serves as a foundation for a youthful squad.
“We definitely are young,” Limback said. “That’s going to be a challenge for us all year. We have to grow up quickly, especially the new guys. We lost some great seniors – some all-conference guys with (Porter) Birtell and (Beau) Smith and some guys who have been around. Any time you lose experience like that it’s a challenge. That’s what we’re trying to overcome.”
The Limback era begins on Friday, Nov. 1 when the Bulldogs take part in the York College Tip Off Classic. Concordia will play host York, a 2013 national tournament qualifier, at 8:30 p.m. on day one of the classic.