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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: UND team says they are more prepared this season

The UND women's basketball team's first go-around in the Big Sky Conference didn't go according to plan. North Dakota went 11-18 overall and 6-14 in league play, despite a roster that experienced success during the Division I transition.

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The UND women's basketball team's first go-around in the Big Sky Conference didn't go according to plan. North Dakota went 11-18 overall and 6-14 in league play, despite a roster that experienced success during the Division I transition.

As UND prepares for its second trip through the Big Sky, coaches and players say they're more prepared this time around.

"The biggest thing for us right now is to prove ourselves in the Big Sky," UND second-year coach Travis Brewster said. "We went in with rose-colored glasses last year. I think now we realize you have to play 40 minutes every game all year long in order to be successful."

On paper, UND appears poised to turn things around led by a solid group of upperclassmen returners, including all-Big Sky honorable mention Madi Buck, Megan Lauck, Allyssa Wall and Emily Evers.

Won the grudge

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Although last season didn't play out as planned, UND was able to knock off North Dakota State in the first rivalry rematch since 2003, as well as earn a victory over Pac-12 member Utah.

"I'm feeling good about how we're practicing," Brewster said. "We're handling ourselves with a business-like approach."

UND's biggest issue last season was the absence of a true point guard. The result was UND finishing 11th of 11 Big Sky teams in turnover margin (-4.07) and 10th in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.6).

UND hopes it has addressed that issue with true freshman point guard Leah Szabla, who prepped at Providence Academy.

"It was tough at first," Szabla said. "The pace of the game is really different than high school. With all of our coaches, they've helped me improve during individual work. We also have amazing seniors, who are always encouraging and telling us what to do next."

Brewster hopes Szabla can also receive some ball-handling help from junior Siri Burck and sophomore junior college transfer Kelsey Knox.

"Leah's been working hard all summer," Wall said. "She's improving her ball-handling and speed. Same with Ellie (Ripplinger). I think they'll fill that role well."

Staying upright

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Perhaps the most important issue of the season, however, will be health. Post players Wall, Evers and Katie Houdek each have dealt with their share of injuries over the years. All three have had varied levels of participation in practice early this season.

"Our health is up and down," Wall said. "It's mostly minor stuff right now, though. Nothing to be concerned about."

Wall, specifically, could be a boost for North Dakota if she returns to health. The 6-foot-4 center played in just 16 games last year and averaged 3.0 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. The North Sioux City, S.D., native has proven capable of larger numbers. She averaged 11.4 points per game as a freshman and 10.4 points as a sophomore.

"I've felt good," Wall said. "I feel a lot better than I have in a long time. It's nice to get out there and play like myself again."

UND hopes a healthy roster and an improved backcourt will result in a better league standing this season.

"Last year wasn't the year we wanted to have," Wall said. "We're hoping to show people this year that we mean business."

Miller reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1121, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1121 or send e-mail to tmiller@gfherald.com .

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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