The 2016-17 season held the usual ups and downs that a collegiate basketball season entails, but for head coach Keith Salscheider and the Sabercats, the season was a harbinger of potential success at the NCCAA National stage - a stage which the Sabercats have put within their reach through hard work in the last few seasons.
- Record: 11-17
- NCCAA Record: 7-5
- NCCAA Regional Finish: 2nd
- Final NCCAA DII Ranking: 10th
- NCCAA Scholar-Athletes: Matt Gill, CJ Jones, Adam Love
- AD3I All-Independents: Zach Terpstra (1st Team), Wes Wagner (2nd Team)
The season was characterized by resilience, as the Sabercats shook off off-court setbacks and an 0-4 start - their worst since the 2012-13 seson - by taking four wins from their last six games en route to a second-place NCCAA regional finish. Season highlights were two NCCAA regional games where the Sabercats reached 100 or more points; and a 95-90 win over Lincoln Christian University, who are associated with the NAIA and the NCCAA DI. The Sabercats also came close to upsetting NAIA/NCCAA DI powerhouse Trinity International University, but fell in a two-possession game to the regional giants.
"We showed an enormous amount of growth and progress," said head coach Keith Salscheider. "I think we are developing a tougher style of play and we are working to improve on that."
After significant ups and downs for the team, the 2016-17 season ended in bitter disappointment, as the Sabercats were denied the NCCAA North Region title by a staunch comeback from the Moody Bible Institute Archers, who snuck a 76-74 win to take the North Region's spot at the National Championship.
When asked of the adversity the team faced this season, Salscheider stated, "We had season-ending injuries and financial or academic roadblocks that came up for six of our players that forced them out of action for the season. Most of these players would have been high-level contributors coming off the bench or in starting roles. These roadblocks really changed our team composition and what we were able to do on the court."
Despite the setbacks, the Sabercats put together their fourth consecutive season of 10 or more wins - the first time since the stretch of 1997-2000 that Maranatha has achieved that record. As far as single-game records go, the Sabercats set all-time highs for assists (31) and Rebounds (60) against Oak Hills in the opening game of the NCCAA Regional Tournament. Also, the Sabercats finished the season inside of the Top 10 Rankings in NCCAA DII.
"We had excellent team spirit this season," continued Salscheider. "The guys really bought into being 'family', and that's where great chemistry starts. This helped us enjoy working together more and working harder for each other."
Micah Shepard highlighted a deep offense for MBU, as the junior from Arkansas posted 16.6 points per game while shooting just under 50 percent from the field (48.7). Shepard registered a career-high 32 points at home in a tight loss to NCAA DIII opponents Wisconsin Lutheran (1/21), becoming one of 30 players to break the 30-point mark in a game in program history. Shepard scored 10 or more points in all but five games this season, tallying 465 points on the year. Shepard was named an NCCAA All-Region Selection, and is eligible for NCCAA All-American honors.
Zach Terpstra - a team captain - was at the heart of the team for his final season, and the Barron, Wis. native marked his final game in Blue and Gold by posting 26 points in the regional championship game against Moody Bible. The big man registered 10.5 points per game, and showed his versatility through logging 121 rebounds, 37 assists, and 15 blocks on the year.
Newcomer Richard Medina was a standout contributor as well. Besides his crowd-pleasing dunks, Medina shot over 50 percent from the field while adding 7.3 points per game. Medina played every game while starting 19 times during his first season with MBU.
Four-year standout Clayton Morrison was an active presence for MBU, as the senior led the Sabercats with 92 assists during his final season while being credited with a 1.6 assist/turnover ratio. Morrison ranks second all-time in archived Maranatha history* for career assists with 323. Concluding his Sabercat basketball career along with Morrison and Terpstra was Wes Wagner, who was a consistent starting presence for the entire season. The well-balanced forward was a certain contributor on both sides of the ball for Maranatha, and surpassed the 500-points mark for his career during the NCCAA Regional Tournament.
With their depth of talent and veteran leadership, Coach Keith Salscheider and the Sabercats came away knowing they could have improved even on the 11-win season in terms of wins and losses.
"The details mattered more than we realized," said Salscheider. "We lost several very winnable close games this year due to playing outside of our roles and deviating from the game plan in small ways. When we realize how important executing the small things are and stick to the game plan when the game gets frenzied, we are going to take major steps forward as a team."
This season, the Sabercats showed promise in a more competitively well-rounded NCCAA North Region, and will keep their eyes on success at the NCCAA National stage in the seasons to come.
For more on the team and the 2016-17 season, visit the team page (click here)
*Archived assist records date back to the 2000-2001 season.