By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The St. Michael-Albertville girls’ basketball team is making all the right moves of late.
A pair of conference wins last week over Monticello and Big Lake upped their Mississippi 8 record to 4-0 and increased its winning streak to seven games.
While all is good on the court, off the court the Knights are scoring as well. A 64-51 home-win on Jan. 22 over Monticello was important in the standings. But more importantly, it was a record-setting number of $3,956.80 that was raised in the annual Coaches vs. Cancer fundraising game.
The annual charity game was adopted several years ago to help boost money for cancer research. But, until recently, the staff decided to switch things up in the hopes of bringing in more funds.
“We used to have a game to raise donations for breast cancer and we were only raising around $400,” said STMA head coach Kent Hamre. “Three years ago we started donating to families who are victims and it’s resulted with record numbers.”
Tyler Purohit and Aly Juntunen are two Middle School East students – both living with cancer. The game featured the two students in both pre-game and halftime festivities.
“It was an emotional night. It really puts things in perspective,” Hamre said.
STMA leading scorer Natalie Van Wyhe helped put things into perspective on the court. The senior’s 18 points, six assists and six steals were all team leading. Junior Erin Autio recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Monticello kept the game close thanks in part to junior guard Grace Sawatzke. Her 17 points and seven rebounds paced the Magic and she also created five turnovers.
“She gave us a lot of trouble,” Hamre said. “We didn’t have a great night. We leaned on Van Wyhe a lot. She’s been a workhorse for us.”
Van Wyhe was also instrumental in a 69-40 win Jan. 25 at Big Lake. A rare slow start saw the Knights carry only a 1-point advantage into the half. Leading 29-28, STMA found its game in the final 18 minutes, outscoring the Hornets 40-12. The seven-game winning streak matches its longest of the season. The Knights started the season 7-0.
Senior guard Nicole Westrum scored 16 points and recorded seven rebounds. It’s the third time in two weeks Westrum has hit double figures.
“Nicole’s work ethic in practice is showing up in her game,” Hamre said. “She’s really taken over the leadership role. We were up one against Big Lake and the team wasn’t feeling well about our game. She huddled everyone up during a time out and did the speaking.”
Sophomore Bobbi Brendefur had 13 points and senior Makenzie Bebo added 10.
The Knights came into the week ranked No. 8 in Class AA. They hit the road for a pair of games this week. Thursday night they are at Cambridge-Isanti (10-6) and Friday they travel to Anoka (11-6).
“I do think the kids look at the win streak and see where we are in the rankings,” Hamre said. “It adds some extra pressure knowing teams are geared to beat us. I’d rather be on the good end of a streak rather than the bad end.”