Tough early-season schedules have women’s, men’s basketball teams making strides

Calvins womens team has a 4-3 record after seven games, three of them against top 10 opponents. (Photo courtesy

Calvin’s women’s team has a 4-3 record after seven games, three of them against top 10 opponents. (Photo courtesy

Although it’s fairly early in the season, both Calvin’s basketball teams have already faced a number of highly-touted opponents. Both teams have steered their way to winning records in the non-conference season despite their difficult schedules.

Women’s team looks to build on tight non-conference games

Calvin’s women’s basketball team has faced stiff competition in the first few weeks of its young season. Already, the Knights have squared off against No. 12 UW-Whitewater, No. 15 DePauw and No. 1 Hope.

“Playing good teams matters, you learn a lot about what we need to work on, especially defensively,” said Head Coach Mark Christner. “We also get to see our players in a variety of settings. That helps set the playing rotation moving forward.”

Despite its tough schedule, Calvin has outscored its opponents on its way to a 4-3 record, averaging 67.1 points per game while holding opponents to 57.1 points per game. The Knights receive a steady stream of production from standout senior Gabby Timmer, who’s averaging a double-double with 19.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. 

“Gabby attracts a lot of defensive attention. Even Wednesday night [against Hope], there were multiple possessions where she attracted three defenders around her,” said Christner. “Her presence creates space for our other players on the floor.

Junior Sydney Cleary has made significant contributions of her own, with 8.9 points and 4.3 assists per game while making 42.3 percent of her three-point shots. Senior Stephanie Coors has averaged 10.1 points and 26.6 minutes per game for the Knights.

“We have learned a lot about our team so far through seven games,” said Christner. “Personnel wise we have depth that we need to develop, but we have eager learners … We like where we are at.

Calvin’s efforts nearly came together perfectly on Nov. 13 against DePauw at the Fred Raizk Memorial Classic in Wilmington, Ohio. After a back-and-forth game, DePauw, which remains undefeated and ranks 15th in the country, hit the game-winning shot with 16 seconds left. Although the loss was tough, the Knights showed considerable resiliency, coming back from a six-point halftime deficit to tie the game before ultimately losing.

Since that game, the Knights have notched impressive wins against Capital and Chicago, giving them momentum entering the conference season.

The Knights dropped their conference opener to Hope, the unanimous No. 1 team in the country, but the team has identified areas of focus for the next stretch of games.

“We would like to be consistent rebounders, we need to continue to take care of the basketball and get back to playing offense efficiently,” said Christner.

“This team seems to really get along well; now it is about holding one another to a standard of preparation and game execution,” Christner added.

The Knights’ non-conference experience against Top 25 sides will prove vital late in the season, when the Knights host Hope on Feb. 9 before travelling to No. 7 Trine on Feb. 12.

Calvin’s men’s basketball team has raced to a 5-2 record thanks to several impressive defensive efforts. (photo courtesy

Grad seniors, strong defense buoy men’s team 

Calvin’s men’s team is an experienced bunch that leans heavily on the contributions of several upperclassmen. Graduate seniors Luke Morrison, Thad Shymanski, Emmett Warners and Alec Fruin make up four of the team’s five leaders in minutes. The quartet are enrolled at graduate school at Calvin and are taking advantage of the NCAA’s COVID provision that allows for an additional year of eligibility.

“Coach always jokes around about how the average age of our team is 22 years old,” said Morrison, who leads the team in scoring. “The experience has helped us understand our roles and be able to easily adapt to in-game situations and execute Coach’s game plan.”

Morrison played his freshman season at Calvin before transferring to Emory University for the rest of his undergraduate career. He returned to Calvin this year to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration, in addition to meeting up with the “familiar faces from freshman year” on the basketball team.

Joining him is Fruin, who played four years at Northern Michigan University — two of them under Calvin’s current head coach, Bill Sall, during his tenure as NMU coach — before coming to Calvin for grad school. “The more I learned about Calvin and the rich tradition, both academically and athletically, I realized that it would be a great fit,” Fruin said.

“Although a couple of us haven’t really played with others on the team before this year, we already feel like we know each others’ tendencies and where they are going to be on the floor,” Morrison said.

The veteran Knights have worked their way to an impressive 5-2 record in a difficult stretch of non-conference games to start the season, in large part due to their stellar defense. Calvin is holding its opponents to making 40.7 percent of two-point attempts and only 31.2 percent from three-point range.

“We are really defending at a high level right now and hope to continue to be a consistent defensive team,” said Sall. 

“Defense is something that we talk about every day. It’s the identity of our team,” Fruin added. “We have a lot of guys that can really score the ball, but we understand that in order to get to where we want, we have to be great defensively.”

The Knights’ impressive defensive efforts culminated in a big win over No. 7 Elmhurst at Van Noord Arena last Wednesday, as the Knights handed the Bluejays their first loss of the season, 75-57.

Calvin held Elmhurst to just a 30.8 percent field goal percentage, down considerably from their season average of 44.9 percent. It was the first time this season that Elmhurst failed to score at least 70 points.

Shymanski picked up his 1,000th point in a Calvin uniform in the win, becoming the 27th player in university history to reach the milestone.

Elmhurst wasn’t the only top 10 opponent Calvin faced this season, as the Knights lost a tight game to No. 2 Illinois Wesleyan in November. Calvin traded blows with the undefeated Titans before ultimately falling, 81-72. 

“IWU was very good and I think we learned that we can compete with the better teams in the country,” Sall said. “I think that game helped us tremendously last night pick up a win against 7th-ranked Elmhurst.”

Calvin’s intimidating slate of high-ranking non-conference opponents is by design. “I love to play a tough preseason schedule. You learn a bunch about your team and what you need to work on to get ready for the MIAA,” Sall said.

“With all teams, you want to be playing at your best come to the end of the year, and by playing stiff competition early we are prepping ourselves for that,” Morrison added.

Calvin will also face No. 10 UW-Oshkosh on Dec. 30 before entering MIAA play, but its goals for the season won’t end there.

“The goals that we have for the rest of the season are to win the MIAA, both regular season and conference tournament, and then make the NCAA tournament to compete for a national championship,” Fruin said. “Right now, it’s about getting better every single day so we can achieve these goals.”