BISMARCK, N.D. — Heading into the 2023-24 basketball season, the University of Mary is predicted finish third in the NSIC conference. For head coach Rick Neumann, he wants his team to use the projection as encouragement.

“They’re just that, preseason rankings,” he says. “Now it’s our job, as we always say, when we’re picked high, we say prove them right. So, I think that’s something exciting for our girls and we’re certainly not going to shy away from it. You know, that I think that in today’s world, social media world, like just you just can’t be immune to those things. So, we actually want to embrace them and try to use that as motivation for us.”

However, some players think the opposite of their head coach’s mentality.

“He says prove them right, but honestly, I think prove them wrong,” junior Ryleigh Wacha says. “I think we’re better than third. I think that we can definitely get second or even first in the NSIC. So, I think prove them wrong is the mentality that we need to take and just prove that we are better and we are meant to go to the tournament.”

This Marauders squad gives the program a fresh look with seven newcomers. The team feels that their depth is going to be a key piece to success on the court.

“We’ve got eight girls that probably deserve to start a basketball game,” Neumann says. “We can easily get to 12 deep and feel like we aren’t going to drop off in production. But, for us we have to continue to to trust that process and use these first couple of weeks to to really try to hone in on some rotations.”

With loads of depth on the roster, competition takes center stage at each practice, with playing time on the line every time a player steps on the court.

“It just seems like every session that we compete in comes down to the last possession, you know, and that’s been great because now you’re learning about your team, your players are learning how to play with each other,” Neumann says. “You’re kind of just finding out who’s who’s a not afraid of the moment, who wants to rise up, lead their team. So from that standpoint and our practices as have been as competitive as any I’ve coached.”

“You have to come and bring it every day because if not someone is out there that might have a better day than you,” graduate student Megan Zander adds. “You can’t take any days off with all these people that are fighting for a spot.”

The Marauders senior adopted a mantra of “all in” for this season, focusing on playing as a team, and forgetting about individual accomplishments.

“I think it’s a really good representation of what our mentality has to be to be successful,” Wacha says. “Everyone’s going to have to sacrifice and everyone has to really buy into that team mentality if we want to win, you know, we can’t have individuals on this team like we are all individually very good. I think if we take our individual skills and bring them into that team aspect and play for each other rather than just for ourselves, we’ll be so much better.”

The Marauders kick off their season on Friday against Angelo State University at the Montana State University-Billings Tipoff Classic. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. central time.