BOWLING GREEN - As college basketball practice begins tonight, the Bowling Green State University's men's and women's teams face a sharp contrast of challenges in preparing for the season.
Some might scoff at the women's team having much to worry about.
The Falcons return every starter from last year's Mid-American Conference championship team, and with just one of those starters a senior, there's not even a sense of urgency to prepare younger players for a larger role next year.
With the men, the qualms are a little more obvious.
The Falcons graduated two All-MAC players and for the time being, have just four returning scholarship players and six newcomers, including five freshmen. Of the two returning starters, one, senior Steven Wright, will miss the preseason with a broken foot.
Relaxed NCAA rules allow teams to practice a little earlier than the traditional midnight Saturday time. The men's team will practice as soon as the clock strikes 7 tonight, and the women's team will start tomorrow morning.
The rules also let squads this year occasionally work as a group in the weeks leading up to the first official practice.
Men's coach Dan Dakich said that's a lucky break for his team because of all the new faces.
The freshmen are occasionally struggling with routine drills and the quickness of the college game.
They have shown a penchant for athleticism and accurate shooting, Dakich said, singling out Erik Marschall, a 6-7 forward from New London, Ohio, as early competition for the older players.
"They've been great," Dakich said. "That surprised me, I thought it would be more of a battle."
Dakich said with Wright out, juniors John Floyd and Matt Lefeld and sophomore Perrick Robinson are helping the newbies toward a smooth adjustment.
"They still have some growing pains to go through, but all the older guys are pleasantly surprised with how they're coming along," said Floyd, a St. John's graduate and the Falcons' other returning starter at point guard.
Freshman guard Brian Moten is attempting to qualify academically and could join the team as early as mid-November.
Senior forward Mawel Soler is on indefinite leave because of an internal conflict, but Dakich said he is working to rejoin the team.
The women's team, coming off its first title in 11 years, faces for the first time heightened expectations from the outside.
Junior post players Liz Honegger and Ali Mann were named to the preseason All-MAC team, and that's just the beginning of the reason for the bull's-eye on BGSU's back.
"We're going to get everyone's best effort," coach Curt Miller said.
"We know that we have to be prepared for that. We have to raise our level of play if we want to have a chance of repeating."
The team had an unprecedented number of players live in Bowling Green over the summer for conditioning and open gyms. Previously, less than half the team would stay, but this past summer 12 of the 14 players did so.
"The teams that are going to play us this year, they don't care that we won last year," senior guard Casey McDowell said. "We had our fun."
The men's team opens the regular season Nov. 10 against Western Carolina in a tournament in Blacksburg, Va., while the women's team begins Nov. 18 at home against IPFW.
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