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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Lakota-Edmore makes adjustments to make state tournament

The Raiders entered the season with two building blocks in two-time all-state center Fallyn Freije and wing Mary Haman. Add to the mix Shaye Ronningen, a transfer who was a standout at Midkota, and Lakota-Edmore had the looks of a powerful girls basketball team.

On the court, however, this wasn’t a season of instant success.

Rather it was one of adjustments that culminated in the Raiders’ second trip to the North Dakota Class B girls high school basketball tournament in the past three seasons.

Lakota-Edmore gets a tough quarterfinal draw, as the Raiders play undefeated, top-seeded and defending state champion Minot Ryan at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fargodome.

Despite putting together an 18-6 record, “we’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs,’’ Lakota-Edmore coach Duane Connell said. “We had to get the girls to jell, to play as a team.

“When you get everything working together, it looks easy. But we have been very inconsistent. The girls have had to make some adjustments. When we’re playing good team basketball, we can be tough to beat.’’

Some of the key adjustments have included:

Change at the top: Connell is in his fourth season with the program. When Jon Berg resigned as head coach after last season to take a position at another school, Connell was elevated from assistant to head coach.

Connell said there were a few adjustments, but no major changes as far as plays and playing style. “Probably the biggest adjustment was for me. I had to be watching game films more, doing the scouting reports, preparing for practices.

“For the girls, Jon was more laid back. I’m probably a little more emotional, more fired up, than Jon ever was. I’ll be jumping up and down more on the bench than Jon did. The girls had to get used to that.’’

New kid on the block: Lakota-Edmore returned two of its top four scorers from last season’s Region 4 runner-up team in Freije and Haman. Ronningen also was a proven scorer, averaging 17 points for Midkota last season.

But it took time for Ronningen to find her niche.

“At Midkota, she was the player,’’ Connell said. “She comes here and she was adjusting to new teammates and a new offense. We had to convince her that she had to be as aggressive as she was at Midkota.

“Defenses concentrate on Fallyn. That leads Shaye to be open more. And she is taking advantage of it. Shaye has really taken over at the end of the season.’’

Six-footers Freije (19.6 ppg) and Ronningen (11.8 ppg) lead the Raiders’ offense, followed by Jaedyn Pesek (7.6 ppg), Haman (6.8 ppg) and Miranda Martinson (6.6 ppg).

While Ronningen’s scoring average is down by five points a game from a year ago, she scored 18 or more points in three of Lakota-Edmore’s five postseason games. She scored her 2,000th career point in the region final.

“We want to take advantage of our size,’’ Connell said. “A lot of teams in Class B don’t have two quality big girls like we do.’’

Making a point: One key graduation loss from a year ago was Ashtin Freije. Fallyn’s older sister was a second team all-state pick who ran the Raiders’ offense.

No one player has replaced her as point guard. Instead, the playmaking role has been done by committee.

“Our team last year ran through Ashtin,’’ Connell said. “The ball was always in her hands. This year it’s more of a team thing. It took awhile to adjust. We weren’t sure who would be at the point.

“Mary took over the position and right now she’s very good at running the offense. Fallyn will get a defensive rebound and bring the ball up herself. She’s a good passer (team-leading 5.4 assists per game).’’

The Raiders still managed to win 75 percent of their games. And that was with a strong schedule. Teams they lost to included the top two seeds in the B tournament, Minot Ryan (72-57, a game in which Freije scored 45) and Thompson (46-40), as well as Class A state tournament qualifier Valley City (65-54).

But, Connell said, there were struggles in some games Lakota-Edmore won, plus there was a defeat to No. 4 seed New Rockford-Sheyenne in the District 7 semifinals. “At times, it was difficult to gauge where we were at,’’ Connell said. “But we could see the potential. We felt we could be a very good team.’’

Said Freije: “The last time we went to state, it was almost shocking. We weren’t supposed to be the team going (from our region). This year, it wasn’t a surprise. We knew we had the potential.’’