The bright lights of big arenas will be shining on the St. Ambrose University men's and women's basketball teams in the next few days.|
Coach Ray Shovlain's men's team opens the regular season tonight at Hannibal-LaGrange and then has back-to-back exhibition games at St. Louis University (on Saturday) and at Chicago State University (on Monday).
Coach Krista Van Hauen's Queen Bees have trekked to Bloomington, Ind., where they take on the Big Ten Conference's Indiana Hoosiers this evening in Assembly Hall.
Both clubs will be able to take a lot from these games – and not only financially.
- Queen Bees vs. Hoosiers tonight: This game was set up with the help of former Queen Bee Coach Nate Altenhofen who left SAU for an assistant coach job in Bloomington. His gig there lasted only one year, though, and won't be part of the exhibition. Even without being able to hook up with a former coach, the Queen Bees are looking forward to the game.
"It's a great opportunity for us,'' said former Alleman standout Michelle Charvat, now an SAU senior. "I think it's going to be a great experience to be in that atmosphere and to play such a great team. They are big, so it will be challenging for us. I think it will definitely help us prepare for our season to come -- we have a pretty tough schedule."
Van Hauen is hoping a game like this at the start of the season comes full circle and helps the NAIA nationally 10th-ranked Queen Bees in the near future and come the back end of its season.
"It's going to be a great experience to see those facilities and play against that strength and speed and in that atmosphere,'' she said. "I hope they learn from it, because we hope that in March we're playing in a bigger arena and that's kind of preparing us for the national tournament as well. ... We also hope it helps us in a week when we play No. 2 ranked Morningside."
Van Hauen is also making it a special trip for the kids to remember. Trying to replicate an NCAA Div. I program as best she can at SAU, the team went out Wednesday to get in a practice in Assembly Hall and use the trip as a team-builder for a very young squad.
"I want to give my kids those experiences that DI kids get,'' said Van Hauen, who also goes to Honolulu with the team in early December. "Hopefully they will enjoy the experience and have some fun doing it.''
Van Hauen has no idea what she will be facing tonight from the Hoosiers, who finished 3-13 in the Big Ten last season and lost their top three scorers. Indiana also employed Altenhofen's preferred zone defense and she isn't sure if they will see that or not.
"We're going into it, obviously, as huge underdogs," said the coach. "You'd like to stay close and be competitive, but it's a learning experience, definitely. We'd like to give them a run for their money, but realistically, you don't know how it's going to play out. ... Hopefully we'll catch them on a bad night."
- First things first for Bees: Before the men's team can look ahead to a whirlwind exhibition swing from St. Louis to Chicago, the Bees must first take care of business against an NAIA Div. I Hannibal-LaGrange club that is no slouch.
The Bees weren't able to get much of a scouting report on the Trojans as their season opener on Tuesday was postponed when a backboard shattered on a dunk in the fifth minute of a game against Iowa Wesleyan.
"That's usually a talented and athletic team," said Shovlain.
The veteran coach is also using the trek through Missouri as a team-builder, taking everyone in the program so they can spend a couple of nights together. The team is planning on taking in a St. Louis Blues game Friday after a workout at SLU's multi-million-dollar Chaifetz Arena in preparation for Coach Rick Majerus and the NCAA Div. I Billikens on Saturday afternoon at 1.
"It's one of those gyms you wish you played in,'' said Moline junior Justin Blondell, who won't get that chance as he is out rehabbing a knee injury.
Still, he and his teammates are looking forward to the experience.
"I don't think it's daunting," said senior captain Mike Kennedy of the opening weekend of play. "If anything, it's a good test to show where we're at. When I was a sophomore, we played St. Louis and actually made a game of it and that helped our confidence."
Blondell joked that it should be a great start for the team "as long as we don't lay an egg." Still, there is more to get out of it than just the paycheck.
"The first one is the most important because it goes on our record," said senior captain Chris Donnelly. "The next two are to see where we're at. I think it will be a good test for us to play against that quality of competition and I think we'll be very competitive with them."
"Our expectations are to win and obviously, if it doesn't happen that way, then we'll get good experience,'' said Kennedy, the reigning Midwest Collegiate Conference Player of the Year. "The DI teams will be more athletic and bigger, so it will help us in the long run.''
Which is what these exhibitions are all about.
Listen to the Queen Bees
Fans will be able to listen to the St. Ambrose women’s basketball exhibition game at Indiana University tonight. An audio broadcast will be available through the SAU Athletics website at www.sau.edu/athletics (or direct link - http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/stam.portal#). Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.
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