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NORTH DAKOTA CLASS B GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT PREVIEWS: A change in course

Lakota wasn't exactly approaching the postseason on a high. With three games left in the regular season, the Raiders girls basketball team had an 8-8 record after losing six of their previous eight games. "I was really worried about the mental as...

Lakota wasn't exactly approaching the postseason on a high.

With three games left in the regular season, the Raiders girls basketball team had an 8-8 record after losing six of their previous eight games.

"I was really worried about the mental aspect of our game," Lakota coach Jason Wiberg said. "The girls were starting to get mad - not at each other but mad at themselves. I was concerned.

"But in most of those games, we weren't getting blown away. There were just some little things we had to work on. We were making a few too many turnovers and missing too many free throws."

Whatever the wrinkles were that had Lakota struggling, the Raiders have ironed them out.

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Lakota has won nine straight games, sweeping through the District 7 tournament, then winning the Region 4 tournament. As a result, Lakota is in Minot this week, returning to play in the Class B state tournament for the first time since 1997 when it also was in Minot.

In its winning streak, Lakota has won all but one of the nine games by nine or more points.

"Everything has been going our way lately," standout senior guard Courtney Anderson said. "The past nine games, we seem to keep getting better and better."

Balance leads

to success

There's no secret to the Raiders' success. It's balance. And the postseason has made that clear.

In the District 7 championship game, Hannah Ritteman's 12 points led the Raiders to a win. Marleigh Kuchar had a team-high 13 points in a region quarterfinal win against Rolette-Wolford. Ashley Sundre with 13 points led the way against Langdon in the semifinals, then Anderson scored 24 as Lakota beat Minnewaukan-Leeds for the region title.

And through those four games, fifth starter Erin Haugland had a team-high 50 points.

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"Every one of the starters could be a 15-point scorer if they were looked on to do more," said Wiberg, whose five starters have scoring averages ranging from 8.8 to Anderson's team-high 10.7 points per game. "But they realize that, in our situation, there's less pressure on everybody. Nobody has to go out and score 20 a game for the team to do well."

The Raiders have had only four 20-point games all season, three by Anderson and one by Ritteman.

"We're all pretty even," Kuchar said. "We all have our roles. And we work well together.

"I think we're all capable of scoring more points. But I don't think we'd win as many games. With five girls out there who can all score, defenses can't key on anybody. They have to pay attention to all of us. On any given night, any of us can score quite a few points."

A longtime

building process

These Raiders have always been close to a berth in a state tournament.

This was Lakota's third region appearance in the past four seasons, with the all-senior group of starters all having contributed to those teams. In addition, they were four-time qualifiers for the region volleyball tournament.

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"Our first year, when we were ninth-graders, we were new to everything that was going on," Anderson said. "We were happy just to get there (to the regional). After that, we wanted to keep doing better.

"It was in the back of our minds that we might not ever make it past the regional. But getting to state was always our goal. I can remember us talking about playing at state when we were in elementary school."

Said Wiberg: "I think the girls have grown so much this year. They played with more urgency. They're seniors; you lose and it's over. There is no tomorrow. For most of them, this is probably it for their basketball. And they love the game."

The last time Lakota was in the state girls basketball tournament, in 1977, Anderson's parents were third-graders at Lakota.

"We were hoping it would happen," Kuchar said of qualifying for state. "We kept placing at the district and region tournaments in basketball and volleyball. But we couldn't seem to win it.

"When it finally did happen, we were amazed."

Reach DeVillers at (800) 477-6572, ext. 128, (701) 780-1128 or by e-mail at gdevillers@gfherald.com .

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