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PREP BASKETBALL THIS WEEK: Storm girls coming of age

Success took awhile to achieve for Haley Safranski and her classmates. Safranski and Kallie Haugen were rotation regulars as eighth-graders in the Stephen-Argyle High School girls basketball program. The season was 2007-08 and the Storm finished ...

Success took awhile to achieve for Haley Safranski and her classmates.

Safranski and Kallie Haugen were rotation regulars as eighth-graders in the Stephen-Argyle High School girls basketball program. The season was 2007-08 and the Storm finished with a 4-17 record.

"It was pretty tough,'' Safranski said. "We didn't have that much experience. The games could get really physical. And we were pretty nervous, pretty scared, when we started playing.

"But we got used to it. We knew we had to keep our heads up and keep working hard. I knew we would get better. It just took a little time.''

That work has paid off. Safranski and Haugen are now seniors and part of a Storm team that is 9-0. Stephen-Argyle faces one of its toughest challenges to date when it goes across the Red River on Thursday to play North Dakota Class B power Grafton in a game at St. Thomas.

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Storm coach Garry Kotts said the program had to go with a youth movement a few seasons ago due to low participation numbers. Haugen and Safranski were joined in the rotation by classmates Taylor Hoeper, Courtney Gruhot and Marissa Adolphson during their freshman season.

"It was a challenge,'' Kotts said. "We had to be more patient. You know that, with a team that young, there will be mistakes. They should have been playing junior high or junior varsity at the time, but out of necessity they had to move up because of our numbers.

"When you have eighth- and ninth-graders playing on varsity, you're taking a physical beating. It's tough. Now we have eight seniors. We can match up physically with most teams.''

The turnaround was slow. Stephen-Argyle was 9-14 in the 2008-09 season and 7-17 the following season. But Stephen-Argyle snapped a string of four straight sub-.500 seasons when it went 16-9 last year, losing 57-51 to Northern Freeze in the West Subsection 8A championship. The Freeze went on to win the 8A title.

"We could see good things were going to happen with this group,'' said Kotts, whose team plays the Freeze tonight in Karlstad. "We could see they had talent, the numbers were good and it's a dedicated, hard-working bunch of kids.''

Safranski paces the team with an 11.2 scoring average. Balance is a strength -- junior Brooklyn Hanson is next on the team with a 9.0 scoring average, followed by Haugen (8.6 ppg and a team-best 3 assists per game), sophomore Carly Safranski (7.2 ppg), Gruhot (6.1 ppg, team-best 6 rpg) and Adolphson (5 ppg).

"We don't emphasize any one area in our game,'' Kotts said. "It is whatever or whoever is clicking on a given night. Some games we've relied more on our perimeter kids; sometimes it's the post kids.''

Grafton is similar to the Storm in that it has good depth and a balanced offense. The 6-1 Spoilers have a group of athletes who have played at the varsity level for many seasons.

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Unlike Stephen-Argyle, success came early for the Spoilers. Seniors Brooke Gaustad and Samantha DeSautel, for instance, have been regulars for the past three seasons on Grafton teams that were top-three finisher in the Region 2 tournament each year.

"I think we're appreciating our success a little more now,'' Haley Safranski said. "We've worked hard. Now we're getting rewarded for it.''

In other area games to watch this week:

Boys basketball

_ Hatton-Northwood at Thompson, Saturday: Both teams are sitting near the top of the District 3 standings with different styles. Thompson (6-3) has been led by standout post player Jake Adam, while the strength of the Thunder (6-3) is in a perimeter corps led by returning all-stater Mike Paulson.

_ Goodridge-Grygla at Kittson County Central, Tuesday: These are two of the better teams in a balanced Minnesota West Subsection 8A field. Goodridge-Grygla (5-4) counters its balance against the one-two scoring punch of Derek Coffield and Zach Rynning for KCC (6-4).

Girls basketball

_ Thompson at Central Valley, Friday: Two of the best in North Dakota's Region 2 meet. Central Valley (7-2) is defending region champion, while unbeaten Thompson (6-0) finished fourth in the region last season. Central Valley had only one senior and Thompson had two on those teams. Before the Valiants, however, Thompson hosts a strong Hatton-Northwood team Thursday.

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_ Langdon at Rolla-Rock Lake, Thursday: These are two of the top teams in a balanced District 8. Rolla-Rock Lake faces the task of slowing the one-two scoring punch of Julie Dinius and McKenzie Hart.

Boys hockey

_ Warroad at Roseau, Thursday: The teams are in different classifications, Warroad in Section 8A and Roseau in 8AA, but it remains one of the top rivalries in the area. Roseau's offense, led by Alex Strand and Zach Yon, will challenge a Warriors defense anchored by standout goalie Andy Foster.

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

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