Earning their stripes: Competition fueling DWU men’s basketball team

Dakota Wesleyan University's Koln Oppold puts up a shot against Concordia University last season at the Corn Palace.

With a mixture of old and new faces, competition is driving the Dakota Wesleyan University men’s basketball team.

The Tigers are coming off a 23-9 season and their sixth-straight NAIA Division II basketball appearance, which was canceled in March due to the pandemic. All-American guard Ty Hoglund, last year’s conference player of the year, graduated after finishing as the program’s third all-time leading scorer. Collin Kramer and Sam McCloud -- last year’s top rebounders and defensive stalwarts -- have also graduated. Tristan Teichmeier, who missed a bulk of the season with a knee injury, also exhausted his college eligibility.

“Those guys were our leaders big time last year and they definitely left an impact on the program,” DWU junior forward Mason Larson said. “So just kind of carrying on that tradition that they were carrying on too is a big deal for us.”

But the departures have opened the door for healthy competition at all spots.

“The competition has been good every single day, almost to the point of it getting physical, too,” DWU assistant coach Tyler Vaughan said. “Especially in the first few weeks when guys were really trying to jockey for different positions and now we’ve kind of established who’s in the rotation.”


Vaughan, who is in first season with the Tigers, is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the program. DWU head coach Matt Wilber is on a personal leave of absence and his timetable to return is undetermined, said athletics director Jon Hart.

On the court, senior guard Nick Harden returns after an Achilles injury sidelined him for the second half of last season. Harden, a crafty left-handed guard, was averaging 17.8 points per game before the injury and was an honorable mention All-American selection in 2018-19.

“He came back and he was pretty much ready to go right away,” Vaughan said. “Nick has really been a catalyst with everything we’ve been doing here over the past couple of weeks.”

Larson and Koln Oppold were thrust into the starting lineup after DWU was rocked with injuries and suspensions last season. But they delivered down the stretch.

Larson, a versatile wing, averaged 13.5 points and 5 rebounds after being inserted into the starting lineup. Defensively, Larson’s 6-foot-7 frame allowed him to swat a team-high 34 shots last season.

“His effort really makes guys play harder and he’s so versatile,” Vaughan said. “He’s inside-outside and defensively, especially, he can pretty much guard everyone on the court and he just takes steps every single day and he’s going to be a really good player for us this year.”

A 6-foot-4 bruising guard, Oppold averaged 8.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last season. Oppold will likely do most of his offensive damage in the paint.

“He’s really polished down low and I’ve watched some stuff from last year and previous years and he’s continuously growing his game,” Vaughan said. “We are going to be throwing to him all the time down low, and other guys we have, but especially him. Because they are going to be throwing guards on him and it’s just an advantage everytime on the court.”


Junior post Jeffrey Schuch (4.9 ppg/2.3 rpg) and senior guard Bradley Dean (1.9 ppg) were also called upon late last season. Schuch and Dean, along with junior forward Ace Zorr, sophomore big Drew Cole and sophomore guard Sawyer Schultz, are all battling for valuable minutes in the rotation.

Athletic freshman wing Teegan Evers has also shown promise, said Vaughan, and his inside-outside game complements the roster.

“We have a lot of different areas we can score and a lot of different areas we can exploit defenses,” Vaughan said. “We have a lot of guys who can shoot it from the outside. We’ve got three or four guys who really can get you down on the block and post guys up.”

The Tigers will again look to find the right combinations on defense. Last season, DWU was sixth nationally in scoring defense per game (68.4) and eighth in total rebound defense (31.2)

“We have a lot of guys that are good scorers and our biggest thing right now we are trying to focus on is defense,” Larson said. “Because if you can play good defense, you can put yourself in any single basketball game.”

The Tigers open the season at the NAIA Basketball Classic at the Sanford Pentagon this Saturday and Sunday. DWU will face Valley City State and Presentation College on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Notes: Sophomore guard Jacob Prouty suffered a labrum injury in his hip during a farming accident and will miss the season. … Paul Coleman, a transfer guard from St. Cloud Technical & Community College, has left the Tigers for personal reasons. … Connor Bich, a freshman forward last season, is now a member of the College of St. Scholastica men’s basketball team in Duluth, Minnesota.

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