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Basketball coaches shoot for a great season

Basketball coaches shoot for a great season

The roaring crowd, screeching shoes and fans yelling – all of this is returning to TRAC this winter as the basketball teams prepare for their upcoming season. But who leads our students on the court and what do they think about the fast approaching season?

Men’s basketball head coach Ben Wierzba is coaching his fourth season at UIS for the men’s team and looks forward to the upcoming season. A local to the Central Illinois area, Wierzba played in the Great Lakes Valley Conference during his college career at SIU-Edwardsville and made all-conference in 1999. Since then, Wierzba has coached at SIU-Edwardsville, University of North Dakota, West Point, St. Joseph’s College, Lewis University, University of Evansville and was announced as the head coach at UIS in 2010. Growing up in the area and having played in the conference are two of the reasons why Wierzba decided to coach at UIS.

“I understand how good the GLVC is basketball-wise and had the chance to come here and to build something special,” said Wierzba regarding his intentions for coaching at UIS.

While coaching the men’s program, Wierzba took the Prairie Stars to their first GLVC conference tournament in the 2011-12 season and has coached the first NCAA all-region honoree for the Stars, Michael Fakuade. Wierzba described his coaching experience here at UIS as a great one.  He enjoys the people he works with and the university has been very supportive. He couldn’t think of a better place to be.

Wierzba is excited for this upcoming season and believes the team has a lot of chemistry that will allow them to do well this season. “They are doing more than what we are asking of them; they are coming in and putting in extra time,” which Wierzba says is reassuring. While he does not know where the team will be placed in preseason polls, he hopes it is near the top.

Wierzba believes that seniors Regan Bruenger and Brandon Snowden will play great this season. “These guys are experienced and [have] been a part of winning programs and helping build [UIS],” said Wierzba. He also mentioned to lookout for junior Dylan Sparkman, who will be a big asset down in the post. While building a program around these men, Wierzba also mentioned junior Kentrell King, sophomore Dusko Despot, junior Jacob Williams, and sophomore Jamall Millison are expected to do well this season.

The coach of the women’s team has not been with the Prairie Stars long but has plans to improve the women’s program to take it to the next level. Head coach Chad Oletzke is currently coaching his second season with the Prairie Stars. After last season’s 6-20 season, Oletzke is looking to improve athletes.

Oletzke thought UIS was an up and coming school with a growing athletic department and campus. Being a Division II coach in the Midwest was something Oletzke was aiming for in his career and UIS met that criteria. Oletzke had never been to Springfield or to UIS before coming for his interview. “I was really impressed with the facilities and with the community, which was basically what I was looking for,” said Oletzke.

Oletzke wanted to become a basketball coach because of a coach he had growing up. “He had such an impact on my life growing up and instilled basketball in me. He was always there for me.”

Coach Olezke said his experience coaching at UIS is interesting. Coming to a school with an up-and-coming basketball program, Oletzke felt like he could build a program from the ground up. That’s what his experience has been so far. “It’s been like putting in the grassroots of what our program is going to be about and laying the foundation for the future,” said Oletzke.

While laying the foundation for the program, Oletzke is still preparing the women’s team for their upcoming season. Oletzke thinks that every year a coach wants to see an improvement from where they were and that is what he is shooting for. However, he feels that it is hard to pinpoint what improvement is exactly. “For the majority of the public they are going to say it’s the wins and losses,” commented Oletzke. For the coaching staff and as a team they are monitoring their daily activity so that they can see growth without a win or loss, they can just see themselves progress as a team. Oletzke would like to see improvements in both the wins and losses, as well as developing their roots as a program.

Seniors Megan Bergerud and Alyssa Palmer are expected to play well this year, along with junior Elizabeth Kelly and sophomore Nicole Collins, to lead the way for the women’s team. Oletzke is looking forward to growth from the whole team, not just select players.  With both coaches preparing their teams for the upcoming 2013-14 season, the Prairie Stars have the possibility of going far this season.

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