Youth movement begins to pay off for UND women's basketball team

121919 S GFH UNDWBB MeganZander RachelGarvey MaggieManson JuliaFleecs LillyKeplin JulietGordon MikaylaReinke EmilyEvers01.jpg
UND women's basketball players (from left) Megan Zander, Rachel Garvey, Maggie Manson, Julia Fleecs, Lilly Keplin, Juliet Gordon and Mikayla Reinke join assistant coach Emily Evers in cheering a Fighting Hawks three-pointer from the bench during Wednesday's home basketball game against Mayville State. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

While on a road trip earlier this season, UND women’s basketball play-by-player announcer Jack Michaels was calculating the average age of the Fighting Hawks -- considering this is one of the youngest teams in program history.

His deduction was that the average age of a UND women’s basketball player this season is 19.2 years.

With a roster of eight freshmen -- nearly all of them contributors at times this season -- UND has one of the youngest teams in the country.

It’s also becoming one of the teams to watch as the group has added shooting, athleticism and speed to the program. More importantly, the freshmen -- so far -- have played with a level of confidence rarely seen from young players.

UND improved to 8-3 on Tuesday night with an 82-53 win over 9-2 Mayville State, ranked No. 21 in the latest NAIA Division II poll.


UND’s nonconference play has raised some eyebrows so far as the Hawks’ wins have come against, among others, Grand Canyon, Rhode Island, Valparaiso, Georgia Southern, South Carolina State and Charleston Southern.

The Hawks’ three losses were to No. 18 and undefeated Arizona, Illinois State and SMU, teams with a combined record of 21-6.

Where this season’s UND team is headed remains to be seen. But the Hawks have shown they may be a team to watch moving forward.

UND opens Summit League play Jan. 1 at Denver. And the Summit will be difficult with the success of South Dakota and South Dakota State in recent years. South Dakota is the favorite this season as the Coyotes are ranked No. 25 in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

Maintaining intensity at the collegiate level has been the biggest challenge for the freshmen, said UND coach Travis Brewster.

“I thought we were lackluster in the first half with our intensity but we came out in the second half and picked it up,” said Brewster of the game against the Comets. “With a young team, you have to work through those things. I can’t say that I’m disappointed in them because I’m not. I’ve been very much in teaching moments with them during the game and being very strong with them in trying to get them to play a certain way.

“There is going to come a point where we’re going to be in a road game and they’re going to have to do it. They’re starting to understand that. And, as we keep growing, I’m OK with that. I’m just going to hang on to the roller coaster and ride.”

So far, most of the freshmen have had special moments. Three of them -- Lilly Keplin (7.7 points per game), Olivia Lane (6.8) and Kacie Borowicz (6.5) rank fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in UND scoring.


Of late, Maggie Manson, a former West Fargo Sheyenne standout, has provided quality minutes off the bench as she’s averaged 7.8 points in her last five games.

UND has only one senior -- point guard Alaina Jarnot -- and the team is led by junior center Julia Fleecs, who averages 11.3 points. Sophomore forward Jaclyn Jarnot averages 10.5 points while 6-5 junior Melissa Leet averages 9.2 points and ranks fourth nationally in blocked shots (36).

Against Mayville, Lane -- a 6-2 forward from Pequot Lakes, Minn., was the latest freshman to make a statement as she scored 17 points and grabbed 8 rebounds.

As expected, the collegiate game has presented challenges for the UND freshmen.

“The game definitely is a lot more intense,” said Lane. “You have to learn how to get open and where to go on defense. It’s a lot different than high school.”

UND closes out its nonconference schedule with games Saturday at Milwaukee and at New Orleans on Dec. 28.

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.

He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.

He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.

Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or
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