By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The long awaited conference showdown between Mississippi 8 girls’ basketball rivals took place Jan. 11 at Rogers High School. The road team would prevail 54-37.
The Royals (8-6 overall) were looking for their fourth consecutive win, after picking up a thrilling 49-48 win Jan. 8 over No. 7 (2A) rated Staples-Motley. On the same night, No. 10 rated St. Michael-Albertville (10-3) easily defeated Brainerd 68-20.
Both teams knew the start of the conference schedule would bring both a challenge and excitement to the table and first-year Rogers head coach Karlee Anderson said she was looking forward to her first encounter to this intense matchup.
“I’m sure every player and coach said this already, but this is a huge rival,” said Anderson, who was a 4-year standout basketball player at Bemidji State. “The girls were fired up and really excited to play. To open the conference with St. Michael was exciting. We were all ready.”
The Royals and Knights may have been excited for the matchup, but both teams came out struggling out of the gate. The game saw its share of missed jump shots, layups and free throws and with only 7:12 left in the first half, the game was stalled at 9-9.
“We weren’t running plays. We really weren’t doing much,” said STMA senior Natalie Van Wyhe. STMA’s leading scorer was held in check the first half scoring just two points. “We finally got the hang of it and started playing basketball like we normally do.”
Van Wyhe wasn’t the only scorer struggling to find the rim. Rogers leading scorer Lindsay Dorr, a junior and sophomore guard Taylor Paulsrud were held in check. Both players averaged 10.2 points per game and Dorr was held to three points and Paulsrud wasn’t on the scoresheet.
“I think we could have come out a little better,” said STMA senior Jordan Hansen. “We could have got in their faces more and get in the passing lanes. But overall, I think we did a pretty good job handling them.”
“Rogers is a great rival for us and anytime we play them it’s going to be a great game,” said STMA head coach Kent Hamre. “They have great athletes as well. But I think our defensive pressure got the best of them. They got a lot of young girls running around and our defensive intensity was the difference.”
Court McClay of Rogers was the one player who handled the pressure defense well. The senior forward scored a game-high 15 points. McClay said she was prepared from the get-go.
“Being a senior, this was one of the last times I’ll ever play St. Michael,” McClay said. “They are very good at pressuring. They are a great team and it’s always been a fun battle with them.”
While Rogers never really found their groove offensively, STMA did. A 16-4 run prior to the half gave the Knights a 25-13 lead. The offense continued into the second half. With junior Erin Autio fouling out, freshman Sydney Tracy scored five points in her place. Junior Bobbi Brendefur led the Knights with 11 points. Van Wyhe and senior Makenzie Bebo each finished with 10 points.
It’s the depth that seemed to be the difference.
“With this team, it can be anybody on any given night,” Hansen said. “Nobody really stands out. It’s more of a balanced effort and I really like that about our team.”
The Royals have shown flashes of depth as well. In recent games, McClay, Dorr, Paulsrud and sophomore Taylor Anderson have each led the team in scoring.
“We have to get consistent. We’re too up and down,” Karlee said. One night we show up, the next night we’re not there. We have to get consistent. We knew St. Michael had a deep bench and they were killing us with their second and third chances with their offensive rebounds.”