After finishing last season with a 10-16 record, the Bulldogs are looking to improve upon their weaknesses and capitalize on their abundance of returning talent to contend for a divisional title.
2013 was a roller coaster season for the Bulldogs, as they scorched through a perfect 5-0 in December, then lost all but one game in January. This initial win streak showed the Bulldogs what they’re capable of accomplishing, and now they just need to continue striving for consistency.
“We’re a team that is hungry for more. We’re looking to compete for the north division title and qualify for the conference tournament We’ve set a standard that we want to achieve and compete at, so we’ll try to do that and just see where the wins and losses fall. None of us are satisfied with the results from last season, so we’re just a team that is looking for more,” said Head Coach Andy Bronkema.
Although the winning momentum from the end of last season didn’t carry the Bulldogs to where they were striving to go, it may have had some lasting effects transferring into this season.
“I think it helped. It was just a sign of everybody maturing. It was our second time playing those teams, and the difference between winning and losing is often very small, so to come out and pick up a win against those teams the second time showed us that our players and system were kind of getting over the hump a little bit,” said Bronkema. “I think that the confidence goes into the next season with individual players, but as far as a team, I think every year is a brand new season.”
Ferris State surrendered just Raymoan McAfee to graduation, and were able to develop the talent they already have while also pulling in a few talented freshmen.
“One of our guys that got hurt early on last year is James Chappell. He played three road games with a torn hamstring and ended up getting a redshirt for the rest of the year. Everyone else is back and hopefully a little bit better, “said Bronkema. “Our captains Drew Lehman and Dietrich Lever are looking to lead the way, and then we’ve got some talented juniors in Jared Stolicker, Josh Fleming and Jibreel Jackson, so those are just some of the guys who we’re really looking to for a big contribution.”
Ferris’ team may be somewhat undersized when compared to the rest of the conference, but the Bulldogs are looking to use a blend of speed to counteract their lack of size in comparison to the rest of the conference.
“We’re a little bit smaller, so we’re trying to use our quickness to run the floor. Defensively, we’re trying to have really great ball pressure and cover ground. We want to help and cover ground on great closeouts so that we’re utilizing our skill and speed,” Bronkema said.
The Wayne State Warriors, who were the regular season conference champions last year, have migrated to the southern division of the Great Lakes Conference, while counterpart Hillsdale takes their place in the north. This move seems likely to increase competition in both divisions.
“Every team in the both divisions is strong. Grand Valley is returning the most, and they’re a very physical team. Michigan Tech and Lake State both made tournament runs last year, and they’ve returned some very good players too. Then Northwood and Saginaw picked up some talented transfers. There’s not one easy game on our schedule, but there’s also not one clear favorite that everybody is looking up at,” said Bronkema.
Through exhibition play, the Dawgs have competed well with good competition. They lost to division-1 foe Oakland University 94-87, then beat up Calvin on their way to a 92-58 victory.
Since then, Ferris has dropped a heartbreaking triple overtime game to Quincy on the road, and followed it up with a one-point loss to Missouri-St. Louis.
A mixed showing to open the season, Ferris will return home for three games.
“Well exhibition games are just one step up from a practice, so we can gather some good information about how our team is progressing, but it really doesn’t mean much for the season,” Bronkema said. “Sometimes people like to score watch in the preseason, but every game is different. We were happy with a lot of things in both of those games, but we also saw some things that we needed to work on, and we’ve addressed them since.”
Now that regular season play is underway, the Bulldogs are playing through their non-conference schedule, and will play three consecutive home games on Nov. 22, 25 and 29. The Bulldogs will then hit the road for Ohio as they begin their conference slate against Lake Erie.