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Developing depth could key Eagles hopes this season

Senior forward Nadia Nelson returns to anchor the New Life Academy front line this season. John Molene / contributor

Three of the top six players return for the New Life Academy Eagles this winter, but success could be linked to how quickly newcomers to varsity respond.

Key returners for the Eagles are 5-6 sophomore guard Carly Hager (9 points per game), 5-9 senior forward Nadia Nelson (4.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and 5-6 junior guard Emmy Erickson (8 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

Hager and Erickson should give the Eagles some nice play in the backcourt. Hager scored nine points a game to lead the Eagles. But Nelson is the only player returning with much varsity experience along the front line.

One player the Eagles were counting on this season will be lost to injury, senior point guard and captain Sydney Gunderson, who averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, is out with a torn ACL.

"We're going to be really young this year," said New Life Academy head coach Greg Wilson. "We have just one senior (Nelson). We have a couple of returning starters, which is a good thing, in Carly Hager, Emmy Erickson and Nadia Nelson."

Wilson is expecting big things from freshman point guard Bethany Brocker.

"We just won't have much depth," said Wilson. "We're going to be really thin. We have just 14 players out for varsity this year, so the numbers are going to be a little tough in terms of depth. So some games are going to be a challenge.

"But I think we can have a really good season," Wilson added. "I think we have some good pieces. It's just a matter of if we can stay healthy, can we stay out of foul trouble. Things like that are going to be a real key for us this year."

New Life was 11-16 last season and 6-7 in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association, tying for fifth place.

Team strengths are speed and shooting ability. Weaknesses might be a lack of depth and a lack of experienced inside players.

"I think we have some good shooters," said Wilson. "I think we'll be a pretty good 3-point shooting team. Last year we shot a little over 30 percent from 3-point and I think we can even do a little better than that. I think that will be a big key for us because we really Nadia is our only inside presence.

"If we can spread the floor a little bit and get some open looks from the 3-point line or do a better job spacing the floor I think that will help us," Wilson added. "Without the two post players who graduated last year it will change how we play defense. I think we'll be much more aggressive and play more of an up-tempo style, even with the short numbers. We're just going to have to get everybody in good shape and kind of go for it from there."

Perennial association powers Maranatha and Southwest Christian are expected to be the top teams in the MCAA again.

New Life opens the season at home against Randolph Tuesday, Nov. 28.

"I like our starting five a lot," said Wilson. "It's just a matter of can we develop the next level of players that are either brand new to the program or played JV last year. Can we get them up to give us good minutes at the varsity level?"