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On the prowl

New England junior Jordyn Bender has averaged 20 points per game from her point guard position. The Tigers (9-0) are ranked eighth in the state media poll. It's the first time a New England girls basketball team has been ranked in 14 years.

Fourteen years is a long time.

It has seemed even longer to the small town of New England, which has a girls basketball team that has yet to taste disappointment in the 2008-09 school year.

The Tigers, led by their trio of scorers in junior Jordyn Bender and seniors Shari Hewson and Amanda Olheiser, are ranked in the Class B state media poll for the first time since 1994 when New England advanced to the state tournament. New England sits eighth, right behind Dickinson Trinity and ahead of Hazen, which is ninth.

"That helps us because we're such a small town," Bender said. "Half of the state hasn't heard of us. It's a dream we've been wanting for a long time."

Tigers coach Jason Jung said it certainly gets people talking.

"It brings some excitement to the town of New England," Jung said. "The kids, especially, didn't expect this. To see their names on the TV and in the paper that we're eighth, it brings excitement and helps with the confidence of the kids as well.

New England has certainly earned the recognition as the Tigers have posted an unbeaten record of 9-0 this season that includes winning their first Roughrider Tournament.

"We knew this would be a (good) year, but we never expected 9-0," Bender said. "It's surprised other people. We hope we can keep it going"

Bender has been at the forefront of the Tigers' offensive attack, averaging close to 20 points per game while creating opportunities for others from her point guard position. Hewson and Olheiser have led the team in scoring at different times this season, and both are averaging around 12 points per game.

"This group that we have ... they're competitors," Jung said. "They like to win. I think that (with) some of the accolades coming along now, I think they're enjoying it."

Bender has been particularly hard to stop. Killdeer had her under control in the first half of the championship game of the Roughrider Tournament, holding her scoreless. However, in the second half, she exploded for 18 points as the Tigers cruised to yet another win.

Though the 9-0 record stays in the back of her mind, Bender said Jung keeps the team from feeling the pressure.

"He told us not to let it get to our heads and it's OK if we do lose," Bender said. "He doesn't put any extra pressure on us."

New England has a tough task ahead as the Tigers have to deal with district games against Bowman County and Beach next week. Jung said the most important thing, right now, is to stay grounded.

"We have some tough games ahead in Bowman (County) and Beach," Jung said. "If we get too overconfident, we're going to have some losses very quickly. They know we have a long ways to go yet."