Last year's 'JV team' now thriving for Beach: No. 9-ranked Bucs take top seed into District 13 tournament
The ceiling has been set high for the No. 9-ranked Beach girls basketball team.
After losing six seniors from last year's team, the Buccaneers have found major success with a squad comprised of mostly underclassmen.
"We lost six seniors last year," Beach head coach Bob Waldal said. "Our bench (from last year) is the kids that are basically playing this year. We've been real pleased."
Beach has one senior on the team this season, Kelcee Dykins. She leads the team with 17.4 points per game. Joining her in the starting lineup are sophomores Hailee Farstveet, Bailey Waldal and Cyndi Stedman and freshman Channa Clarin.
"It's surprising to us that we were the JV team last year," said Dykins, has averaged 20.3 points in the last 10 games. "We've been working with each other all summer and all year. People kind of asking us, 'How are you going to be this year? Are you going to stand up to last year's potential?' That made us want to work much harder to get where we are at right now."
Bailey Waldal is averaging 12.1 points per game, while Stedman is averaging 11. The Buccaneers score an average of 66 points per game and allow 41, which are both the best in Region 7.
Living up to previous expectations can be tough, but the Buccaneers came close to that high ceiling to end the season with 17-2 overall record and a perfect 5-0 mark in District 13.
Despite many of the players on this year's team not starting on Beach's last two teams that each reached the Class B state tournament, several did see quite a bit of varsity minutes.
"We've gotten a lot better since the beginning of the season," said Farstveet, who is averaging 13.3 points per game. "I think our defense has picked up a lot and our offense has come around."
The Buccaneers head into the District 13 tournament with an opening-round bye. They'll face the winner of No. 4 seed Heart River and No. 5 Mott-Regent's opening-round game.
That bye was a killer to the District 13 boys teams as both No. 1 seed Mott-Regent and No. 2 seed New England lost to their respective opponents in the semifinals.
Bob Waldal hopes that doesn't happen to them.
"We've got to be mentally tough," he said. "Those byes aren't good. I think those are coach's nightmares. (Mott-Regent head coach) Wayne Heckaman and (New England head coach) Luke Powers will testify to that too."
The underclassmen who have helped Beach get off to one of the best scoring offenses in Region 7 this season are Clarin and two bench players, junior Morgan Nunberg and eighth-grader Brooklyn Zachmann.
"We've tried all year to get her (Zachmann) as many minutes as we can," Bob Waldal said. "We're a young team and we get younger when look down at the bench."
Beach's young players benefitted from practicing against a team that had a 51-game win streak that spanned for two seasons. The Buccaneers won the 2009-10 Class B state championship and had their lone loss of the past two seasons come in the opening round of the last year's state tournament against Kenmare.
"They made us a lot better," Farstveet said.
Beach is preparing for the District 13 tournament just like a normal game. However, Dykins said there's a heightened awareness and increased work ethic in the gym.
"We're taking practice a little bit harder," she said. "We're working more on our plays and working on defense. We just want to take it one game at a time and it's a lot of dedication right now."
Because this group hasn't been relied on to win during tournament time, Bob Waldal said there will be some nerves. But he hopes they disappear shortly after that first tipoff.
"These are kids and I know they'll be nervous and they should be," he said. "That will be explained to them that it's a normal thing. The faster we settle down, because the adrenaline rush will be there obviously."