Posted: Tue, 01/17/2017 - 9:21am in Athletics
Even before this season started, Nick Raeker and his St. Cloud Technical and Community College teammates felt they might have the ingredients for something special.
After all, the Cyclones returned the core of a team that went 20-9 and finished third at the Region XIII tournament a year ago. That gave SCTCC a level of experience that isn't always easy to come by at the junior college level.
"It's only two years, so there's always a lot of turnover," said Raeker, a 5-foot-9 guard and Albany graduate. "A lot of teams are playing mostly freshmen. But we knew we'd have six sophomores back. That makes a big difference."
Especially because most of that group had experience in the starting lineup. It's shown this season as the Cyclones have gotten off to a 12-1 start and have won nine straight games since their lone loss — an 84-81 setback at the hands of the St. John's JV on Nov. 22.
"We set the standard pretty high coming into this year," said Raeker, who is averaging 14 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. "We knew who we had back, and we knew we had some talented players coming in. So we had big expectations."
The team's confidence only grew after beating Rochester Community and Technical College 86-80 on the road Wednesday. Rochester has typically been a tough place for Minnesota College Athletic Conference opponents to come away with a victory.
"It's the first time we've beaten them down there since I've been here," said Andrew Cone, the former St. Cloud State assistant who is in his sixth season as the head coach at the school. "They've always been so talented. And they can overwhelm you at times. So to go down there and beat them on their home floor was a big lift for us."
Sophomore forward Darian Marshall leads the Cyclones with an average of 20.5 points per game in the four games he's seen action so far. Fellow sophomore forward Lance Gardner, who transferred to the school from Jamestown (N.D.), is averaging 18.6 points per contest and ranks in the top 20 nationally with an average of 10.7 rebounds per matchup.
The team itself has received votes in the past several NJCAA Division III national top 10 polls. They could break into the rankings when this week's poll is released Wednesday.
That would just provide more momentum heading into a matchup at Riverland Community College at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and at home against Anoka-Ramsey Community College, ranked No. 6 nationally, at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The big goal, though, remains winning the program's first MCAC title.
"This is our fifth year in the conference and we've never won one," Cone said. "That's a goal I've had since I got here. It's what we're aiming for."
Raeker believes this could be the year.
"We have the talent," he said. "And we're playing really well right now. But we know we have a long way to go yet."