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Season Preview: New Life Academy hopes solid defense, rebounding translates to wins

New Life Academy senior post player Hannah Nelson returns as a leader for the Eagles this season. (Photo by John Molene)

Losing just one senior off last year’s team, the New Life Academy Eagles will be a more experienced team during the 2016-17 season.

The Eagles were 8-19 last season, finishing ninth in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association (MCAA). They will need to replace senior captain and guard Maddi Maas, who led New Life in scoring (7.9 ppg) and assists (2.8 apg) last season.

“She’ll be a tough one to replace, both offensively and defensively,” said Greg Wilson, who starts his second season as head coach of the Eagles.

But other than Maas, everyone else returns for the Eagles.

Headlining the returners is senior center Hannah Nelson, who led New Life in rebounding last season with 8.9 rebounds a game and was the fourth-leading scorer at 7.1 points per game. Also back are senior center Ally Hullet (7.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), junior Nadia Nelson (5.0 rpg) and junior guard Sydney Gunderson (7.7 ppg).

“We’ve got two real solid post players coming back in Hannah Nelson and Ally Hullet and two starting guards coming back in Sydney Gunderson and Carly Hager,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a really good group coming back. We’re not super deep. We’ll spend a lot of the early season trying to build some depth and get some of the younger players some experience.”

The Eagles expect to be strong defensively and on the boards.

“I think our two post players are a strength. We’ll be a good rebounding team, and we’ll be a pretty good defending team,” Wilson said. “It will really come down to whether we can find enough points. Last year we scored – on the average – probably in the low 40s. We need to jump that by about 10 to 12 points a game to really be competitive. It’s hard to win games 42-40 as good as kids are these days and with 18-minute halves. Ideally we’d like to be in the 60s, but I’d take being in the 50s this year.”

Maranatha and Heritage Christian should be the teams to beat in the conference this season. Maranatha went 14-0 in the MCAA last season and advanced all the way to the Class 1A state finals before losing.

“This year it’s going to be Maranatha and Heritage,” Wilson said. “It seems like it’s always Maranatha. They’re still going to be the best team in the conference. I’d say Heritage will probably be No. 2 and Lester and Legacy will both have very good teams. So it’s a strong conference.”

The MCAA adds St. Croix Prep and Spectrum this season, which makes it a 12-team league. That means each team will face each opponent once instead of the mix of playing home and away against some opponents and meeting other opponents just once a season.

“Our conference is very good,” Wilson said. “It has some really good teams in it so that will be tough.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how our young players develop. We have really two seniors who are starting for us and beyond that, the people who are getting the bulk of our minutes are going to be a junior, a sophomore and a freshman. It will be fun to see how far we can get them between now and the end of the year.”

New Life hosts Breck in the opener Nov. 29.