THE NEXT LEVEL: Eichten, Lindstrom forming a bond at Bethany Lutheran

MARSHALL — Two seasons ago, the Bethany Lutheran College men’s basketball program went just 5-20. In total, the Vikings have went through four consecutive losing seasons.

That led to a coaching change this offseason, as former Southwest Minnesota State guard Matt Fletcher took over the Division III program out of Mankato. In his first year at the helm, Fletcher has led the team to a 6-6 record to open the season, including wins in three of the team’s last four games.

Key contributors to the program’s turnaround are a couple of players from this area who went over the century mark in scoring in high school, and have made an impact at the college level — junior guard Neil Eichten of Wabasso and sophomore guard Blake Lindstrom of Yellow Medicine East.

Eichten graduated from WHS as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,671 career points. That is also the fifth-highest total in the area. He entered his junior season averaging 10.1 points and 1.1 steals per game through his first 48 games, putting him 10th in BLC history in both categories.

Lindstrom had a successful high school career as well, becoming YME’s career leader with 1,245 points. He appeared in seven games as a true freshman last season, averaging 4.6 points per game during BLC’s 10-15 season.

Fletcher was familiar with both players when he took the coaching job.

“I knew Neil had been a big contributor to the program already and Blake had very high expectations to have a big role going forward,” he said. “Both of these guys bring something very different to the table. Neil is one of our most athletic guys. He has a ton of speed and quickness with a great ability to get to the rim and create for himself and others. Blake is the best shooter on our team and really has taken that role to heart.”

Eichten and Lindstrom weren’t as familiar with their new coach, but they quickly learned and adapted to the new playing style.

“The adjustment to the new coach has been great,” Lindstrom said. “I really enjoy playing for Fletcher. He knows his basketball and is a great guy.”

“Coach Fletcher has make the adjustment easy by letting our team know exactly what the expectations he has are,” Eichten added.

The two players also weren’t familiar with each other in high school, but a bond formed during Lindstrom’s first year on campus.

“When I was a freshman I really looked upped to Neil, and he took me under his wing and helped me with many things,” Lindstrom said. “One thing about Neil, whether its on or off the court, he is the most happiest person you will ever meet. He is always smiling and making people laugh with his abnormal humor.”

“We started to hang out more and more off the court, and our bond on the court became very noticeable,” Eichten said. “About a month ago, we all had individual meetings with Coach Fletcher, and one of the topics he brought up was, ‘I don’t understand it, but when you are playing good there is no doubt in my mind that Blake is playing good. He fuels off of you.’

“Playing basketball with Blake has been so much fun, and I have gained a lifelong friend,” Eichten added.