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Red River girls basketball rides aggressive defense to state

Red River's Kenady Steffen drives the lane as Valley City's Courtney Lloyd defends Tuesday at Grand Forks Red River. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

No Grand Forks Red River player ranks in the top 10 in Eastern Dakota Conference girls basketball scoring this season.

That's no big deal to the Roughriders. It is the defensive numbers, where three Red River players are in the top 10 in the EDC in steals, that define the team.

"Our strong side is definitely defense,'' Red River senior Maggie Steffen said. "The steals get us going. They allow us to get out and run. We like the fast-paced game.''

The Roughriders have pressed and run their way to an 18-6 record and a runner-up finish in the East Region high school tournament, earning a berth in the Class A state tournament that begins today in Fargo.

The 5-foot-11 Steffen leads the EDC with an average of 4.3 steals a game. Teammate Kenady Steffan is fourth with 3.3 steals a game, with Jadyn Sondrol also in the top 10 with 2.7 steals a game. There's more pressure off the bench in Claire Leach (1.6 spg).

"We rely on our defense,'' Red River coach Kent Ripplinger said. "We try to force turnovers and to make (opponents) make decisions more quickly than they want.

"With Maggie's height and long arms, she's tough to pass over or dribble around. Kenady has the speed to press the ball and get steals. Jadyn gets steals because she anticipates so well. They can force a lot of turnovers. And we have the depth to maintain that pressure. We can get on a roll off our defense. Hopefully our pressure frustrates teams.''

Overall, the Riders force an average of 24 turnovers a game. Exactly what that equates on offense Ripplinger isn't sure. He estimates that the Riders probably get 16 to 20 points on average off turnovers.

Often those are fast points as the Riders are adept at making steals and outlet passes that lead to fast-break points.

"When we get a steal, we always know somebody is running downcourt,'' Steffen said. "We never talk about getting out ahead on the break after a steal. It's just how we work. I guess it's instinct.

"When our energy is up, we're better as a team. When we get a steal, we're hungry for more.''

The defense doesn't stop on the perimeter. While Steffen leads the EDC in steals, center Shelby Frank paces the conference with 1.9 blocks a game.

"Shelby is definitely a security cushion for us,'' Steffen said.

As far as the offensive part of the game, balance describes the Riders. Steffen (12.6 ppg), Steffan (12.3 ppg), Frank (11.5 ppg) and Sondrol (11.1 ppg) all have been scoring threats.

But, Ripplinger said, "I think we're a better defensive than an offensive team.''

Red River at a glance

• Coach: Kent Ripplinger.

• Record: 18-6, No. 2 seed from East Region.

• State tournament opener: The Roughriders play West No. 3 seed Bismarck St. Mary's (19-5) at 3 p.m. today in the quarterfinals of the Class A state tournament at the Fargodome.

• Roughriders' starting lineup: 5-5 jr. G Kenady Steffan (12.3 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.3 spg, 2.5 rpg), 5-8 jr. G Jadyn Sondrol (11.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.7 spg), 5-11 sr. F Maggie Steffen (12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.3 spg, 2.2 apg), 5-9 sr. F Cassidy Wilson (3.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), 6-0 soph. C Shelby Frank (11.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg).

• Top reserves: 5-11 fr. Alex Page (3.7 ppg, 3 rpg), 5-3 soph. Claire Leach (2.5 ppg), 5-10 jr. Karlie Robson (1.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg), 6-0 soph. Jordan Burris (4.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), 5-11 fr. Jade Azure (1.1 ppg).