Pearson, Bulldogs ready for 2017-18 campaign

 After a 14-14 overall record in 2016-17, Pearson and her team look to jump off to a strong start at the beginning of the new season. Photo by: Brett Groehler

After a 14-14 overall record in 2016-17, Pearson and her team look to jump off to a strong start at the beginning of the new season. Photo by: Brett Groehler

Going into her third season, the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball head coach Mandy Pearson looks to guide her team to the top of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).

In 2016-17, Pearson led the Bulldogs to a ninth place finish in the NSIC with an 11-11 record in conference play (14-14 overall) - their best finish since the 2011-12 season when they placed fourth.

The starting five will take on a much different look with junior guard Sammy Kozlowski returning as the team’s only primary starter from a season ago.

“I think that knowing I’m the only returning starter is having that experience and making sure my teammates know that it’s okay to mess up,” Kozlowski said. “We’re all here for each other.”

Kozlowski has proven to be a reliable ball handler for UMD, pacing the team in assists in each of her first two years.

“This offseason, I really tried working on going left,” Kozlowski said. “A lot of people forced me to go left, and when I go left I can create for my teammates better. I’ve learned to slow down so I can create and get open shots because we have a lot of great shooters on our team.”

 Kozlowski enters her junior season looking to lead the Bulldogs to the top. Photo by: Brett Groehler

Kozlowski enters her junior season looking to lead the Bulldogs to the top. Photo by: Brett Groehler

On the other side of the ball, Kozlowski ranked No. 1 in steals in NSIC play with 57 - 10 more than the next highest player. She would finish the season with 69 total steals en route to All-NSIC Second Team and All-NSIC Defensive Team honors.

With five players having graduated, the Bulldogs welcomed five new freshmen - guard Maizie Deihl, forward Sarah Grow, forward Payton Kahl, guard Ann Simonet, and forward Jordyn Thomas - to help bolster their roster.

Pearson brought back a familiar face, though, in former guard Jessie Mathews as a graduate assistant coach for the 2017-18 campaign.

“[Mathews] has been around me for four years now, so she’s used to myself and Jenna,” Pearson said. “So, one, she brings familiarity and I don’t have to do a lot of teaching with her. And two, her basketball I.Q. and knowledge is phenomenal, and our team has a lot of respect for her. So we can really utilize her strengths.”

Mathews played under both Pearson and assistant coach Jenna Freudenberg at Saint Mary’s University before all three relocated to UMD following the 2014-15 season.

“She’s always there supporting us,” Kozlowski said. “Her I.Q. of basketball is great, she knows a lot … I think she brings a lot of knowledge, and she knows us really well so she knows how to interact with us.”

The Bulldogs have already begun to find success, downing the University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets 49-44, and Bethel University 70-55, in exhibition matchups earlier this month.

So what can fans expect from this team?

“We’re fun,” Pearson says, “lots of energy, lots of teamwork. This team works really, really well together. So we’re hoping to build off that.”

UMD will begin its regular season with a matchup against the University of Wisconsin-Parkside of the Great Lakes Valley Conference on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. in Kenosha, Wis.

The Bulldogs will play their first home game against Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference members Lake Superior State University Lakers on Wednesday, Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m.