By Rob LaPlante
The saints came marching in and the St. Michael-Albertville girls’ basketball team came marching out with three early wins.
The opening week feature the St. Francis Fighting Saints and the St. Cloud Tech Tigers.
The season tipped off with a 52-32 Knights win Nov. 27 at future Mississippi 8 rival St. Francis. The Fighting Saints will join the M-8 Conference starting in 2013-14.
STMA head coach Kent Hamre said it was nice to get a road win against a future conference foe.
“Our 9th grade, sophomore and varsity teams all defeated them, so it was nice to send them a little message in welcoming them to the M-8,” Hamre said. “But it was a real sloppy game and you could see the first-game jitters from both teams.”
STMA turned the ball over 26 times and the Fighting Saints had 28 miscues. Senior guard Natalie Van Wyhe scored 12 points in the win and senior Makenzie Bebo added seven. Both Bebo and Van Wyhe created havoc on the defensive side of the ball. Each player recorded six steals in the win.
The Knights carried their momentum into last Thursday’s 47-33 home opening win over St. Cloud Tech.
Again, STMA jumped to an early lead thanks to some hot shooting from junior forward Erin Autio. In the opening three minutes of the contest, Autio was good on 3-of-4 shots from long distance. The Knights held a 27-16 halftime lead.
While the Knights cut down on some of the sloppy turnovers from the previous game, Hamre said he saw his team become a tad complacent in the second half.
“They were leaving the outside open and we got in a bad habit of settling for the three,” said Hamre, who saw his team successfully hit only one attempt in 17 tries after Autio’s three early conversions. “We were playing anxious and there’s no shot clock in high school, but we we’re playing like we had one.”
The Knights were playing most the contest without senior captain Nicole Westrum, who turned her ankle in the previous game and was limited to just two minutes. Van Wyhe equaled her game one total of 12 points and had six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Autio kicked in 11 points and both Bebo and freshman Sydney Tracy had six points.
“Bebo had a great defensive game,” Hamre said. “Our guard pressure was really strong. Natalie is the one mainstay in the lineup, but Bebo has really stepped up.”
Bebo continued her hot play into Monday’s 57-44 victory at Prior Lake. She finished with a game-high 16 points. Van Wyhe again was the spark plug, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds, gaining her first double-double of the year. Tracy also finished with 10 points. The Knights continued their pressure defense forcing 16 Prior Lake turnovers.
STMA will host Mounds View Thursday night, Dec. 6, at 7:15 p.m.