Beach favored, but teams know anything’s possibleThere’s Beach, and then there’s everyone else.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
There’s Beach, and then there’s everyone else.
That’s the unanimous assessment of girls basketball coaches not named Bob Waldal whose teams begin competition in the Region 7 Tournament on Monday.
Waldal, the head coach of the No. 8-ranked Buccaneers, knows his team is the overwhelming favorite to reach the Class B state tournament for the third straight season.
But, he’s also been around long enough to see a lot of crazy things happen at tournament time.
“They are kids, you really don’t know what to expect,” Waldal said. “We’re going to go out and play our game and we’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to take an aggressive stand. The kids, their goal is the state tournament. They know how much fun it is to be there.”
The Buccaneers, the four-time defending District 13 champions who are 19-2, play tournament host Dickinson Trinity at 3 p.m. at Knights of Columbus Activities Center in a game seen by some as a possible region title matchup coming into the season.
Trinity head coach Alysia Barman told her team that even though the path to the Class B state tournament is being walked on the Titans’ home floor, the championship still goes through Beach.
So, with that in mind, why not face the Buccaneers right away?
“I told them that if we’re going to accomplish what our main goal has been set as, we’re going to have to go through Beach,” Barman said.
Beach is an oddity in Region 7 this season.
Not including the Buccaneers, teams in the region tournament have a 70-79 combined record.
Trinity (11-9), which entered the District 14 Tournament as a No. 2 seed, and District 13 runner-up Bowman County (13-8) are the only two teams other than Beach with above-.500 records.
District 14 champion Hazen is 11-11. Killdeer (10-12) and Beulah (10-11) are District 14’s Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively.
Hettinger-Scranton, District 13’s No. 3 seed, is 10-12 while No. 4 seed New England is 5-17 and came into the tournament as the No. 6 seed. The Tigers upset Heart River in a region-qualifier game.
“Beach is a clear favorite,” said Bowman County head coach Pam Fisher, whose team lost to the Buccaneers twice by 33 points this season. “Then again, on any given night, anybody else can beat anybody else — which has really happened the whole season long.”
Either the Buccaneers or Titans will face the winner of the 4:30 p.m. game between Killdeer and Hettinger-Scranton.
Killdeer reached its district title game off the strength of its upperclassmen, particularly center Megan Klein. The District 14 senior athlete of the year played through a knee injury much of the season but averaged 20.6 points and 11 rebounds over three games in the district tournament.
“She could always do it,” Killdeer head coach Sara Doe said. “She needed to prove it to herself, I think. She had some really good games, especially at the end of the season.”
Hettinger-Scranton feeds off the play of its guards, especially senior Taylor Kelner and sophomore Kaitlin Reitz.
Kelner averages 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals per game. Reitz is the team’s point guard.
“What really gets us going is our sophomore point guard,” Night Hawks head coach Kelly Pierce said. “She’s a matchup nightmare.”
The evening session presents a pair of matchups between teams meeting for the first time this season.
Hazen plays New England at 6 p.m. and Bowman County takes on Beulah at 7:30 p.m.
Hazen is led by senior forward Paige Burling, who leads the balanced Bison with 14 points per game. After Burling, Hazen has six players averaging between four and seven points per game.
“This team is very unselfish and does a lot of nice things,” Hazen head coach John Ward said.
New England is the true underdog, having lost eight straight before beating Heart River 43-42 on a Gabbi Hanson free throw with no time left in regulation.
“Going into the district tournament, if we would have made it to the regionals, originally we would have been satisfied and happy with making it to regionals,” Tigers head coach Jason Jung said. “Now, looking at the teams that are in the regional tournament and the matchup that we have, the girls talked and said, ‘Let’s not be satisfied.’”
Neither Bowman County nor Beulah will be happy unless they are playing for the region title.
The Bulldogs have been the season’s biggest surprise. Coming into the year, Beulah expected to be at this point.
Both teams thrive on balance, though Bowman County is guard-orientated and Beulah has the deepest post presence in the region behind seniors Kaycee Link, Anna Iverson and Meghan Battest.
“We know nothing is going to be easy,” Beulah head coach Rick Miller said. “You can’t take anything for granted. It’d be nice to get through that first game and see how things go.”