Girls basketball: Thompson's search nets state appearance

THOMPSON, N.D. -- For two months, Jason Brend tinkered with playing style, searching for the identity of his Thompson High School girls basketball team.

THOMPSON, N.D. -- For two months, Jason Brend tinkered with playing style, searching for the identity of his Thompson High School girls basketball team.

For the past month, the Tommies have reaped the benefits of what turned out to be a successful search.

Thompson was undefeated in February. The Tommies capped that 9-0 run by beating Grafton in the Region 2 tournament's championship game. Thompson, 18-7, will make its first appearance in the North Dakota Class B girls state basketball tournament since 1994 when the Tommies meet Beach at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Minot in the quarterfinals.

"It took us awhile to find the right chemistry," Brend said. "We have older girls who were used to the slower, more deliberate game. That's what we've played in the past. But the younger girls were used to a faster style like they've always played on travel teams.

"We talked about playing a faster-paced game. It took awhile for everybody to figure it out. There were growing pains trying to find the system that worked best for us."


For all the wins Thompson has logged, senior Taylor Broyles said the last loss -- a 42-39 setback on Jan. 29 to a Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg team that won only six games all year -- was the turning point.

"That was rock bottom," Broyles said. "Then we got together, talked about what we needed to do to get better, and we went out and did it. Our goal was to get to the regional; on that day, I didn't think it was going to happen."

Becoming offensive

Prior to the loss to May-Port-C-G, Thompson had reached the 60-point mark only three times. During the current nine-game winning streak, the Tommies have scored 63 or more seven times, including three games in the 70s.

"We definitely had a slower pace at the beginning of the year," junior Whitney Sponsler said. "We like to transition, to run on other teams and try to wear them down. We have quick people on our team, and we don't have a lot of size."

There was a price to pay -- in pain -- that went along with the faster pace.

"It was tough," Broyles said. "We weren't in shape at first to do it. We were getting our butts kicked in practice with all the running. We weren't in great shape; we died. But it's paid off."

Sponsler is the leader in an offense that is averaging 65 points a game during its nine-game winning streak. The 5-foot-8 forward paces the team with averages of 16 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.9 steals per game. Broyles averages 12.5 points and is a long-range bomber, going 59-of-163 on 3-point shots. Jennifer Hegg (5.6 ppg), Samantha Brorby (4.7 ppg) and eighth-grader Karleigh Weber (5.9 ppg) round out the starting five.


"We don't have great size, no tree-toppers," Brend said. "This group has speed and athleticism."

Loving the role of underdog

Thompson is the only one of the eight state tournament qualifiers that never received a top-10 ranking in the weekly Class B state poll during the season. The Tommies, who entered the playoffs seeded fourth in District 3, never got a vote in the poll.

Brend credits that for a region that featured quality teams such as Central Valley, Dakota Prairie, Fordville-Lankin/Park River and Grafton.

"I don't know if it happens a lot," Brend said of being a district No. 4 seed qualifying for state. "But it shows the caliber of play in our district and region. It's a lot of good teams beating up on each other.

"Going into the district tournament, we felt this could happen. We got on a little role at the end of the season. These kids aren't afraid of anybody. They have so much confidence, so much of a bring-it-on mentality."

Thompson beat quarterfinal opponent Beach 66-65 in overtime last season. Thompson graduated three starters from that team. Beach was heavy on underclassmen last season; this season, Beach was ranked first in each of the final nine weekly polls.

"I love being the underdog," Broyles said. "There's no pressure on us. Girls from other teams were even telling us (during the regional) they'd love to see us go to state because nobody was expecting it."


DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to .

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